Q&A: Does thumb-sucking impact teeth and speech?

Posted in Teething FAQs, Toddler Teething and tagged .

Question & Answer

Babies find all sorts of ways to self-soothe themselves to sleep – playing with the tag on a toy, listening to calming music or sucking their thumb or a baby dummy. It’s perfectly ok – whatever works to get our little angels to sleep!

But when kiddos get a little older, it’s really common for parents to be a little iffy about their junior continuing to be a thumb-sucker. Once they reach the age of three or four, we often start looking at how thumb-sucking may be impacting them, and ideas on how to stop it.

My bub will soon be seven-months-old and is starting to suck on his thumb (both sides) constantly during sleep and while awake. I’m quite concerned it can cause harm to his teeth and maybe the way he talks later on. What should I do? Let him continue or how can I stop him from sucking his thumb?
– Gabby, Mum’s Grapevine Spring 2018 Baby Group

We asked dentist Dr Guilia D’Anna what to do about thumb-sucking, and if it has an impact on baby teeth and speaking.

“One of the most important things to consider is that although dummies or thumbsucking can seem like a godsend in putting your baby at ease and to sleep, this may cause a much bigger problem later.

“When thumb sucking or dummy sucking is sustained through to age three or four, the mouth actually changes shape to accommodate the thumb or dummy. Instead of upper and lower arches being wide with the front teeth touching, the arches will be long and narrow, and there is usually a space between the upper and lower teeth when the child is closing.

“This may set up a number of problems. There could be a speech problem, with lisping as the tongue doesn’t hit the back of the upper teeth when pronouncing ‘s’, ‘r’ and ‘f’ sounds. The second problem we’ve seen is that when the adult teeth start coming through, they also come through where the baby teeth are sitting.”

Dr Guilia D’Anna says there are times when a dentist with orthodontically need to intervene to close the gap between the upper and lower teeth.

How to help kick the thumb-sucking habit

According to Better Health, most kiddos stop sucking their thumbs around two to four year of age, but if they need a little encouragement to stop the suck, here are some ideas:

  • Give lots of encouragement.
  • Use distractions like a new toy to cuddle to replace thumb-sucking.
  • Start a reward chart to track how many days it’s been since they’ve stopped.
  • Use reminders that stop them putting their fingers in their mouth – like a thumb guard or gloves.
  • Be patient – the habit they’ve had most of their life will take a while to kick.

If your little thumb-sucker doesn’t look like they’re keen to stop the suck any time soon and you’re concerned, just make an appointment with your healthcare provider or your dentist for a chat.

Read next …

Need some creative ways to help ditch the dummy? These articles are just what you need (including suggestions for alternatives to a dummy for sleep):

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