Image of child sucking on his thumb

Is Thumb Sucking Bad for Your Child's Teeth?

Few things are more adorable than your infant sleeping, eyes gently closed and tiny thumb resting in his or her mouth.

As your child ages, however, you might begin to worry about the thumb-sucking habit. He sucks his thumb while playing with blocks. She sucks her thumb when you're reading her a book. Hardly a moment passes by without your toddler sucking on a thumb as if it were the tastiest lollipop in the world.

Don't panic. It's normal for children to suck their thumbs. But if the habit goes on for too long, thumb-sucking may cause some developmental problems as they grow older.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Thumb sucking begins long before your child ever opens his or her eyes. In fact, scientists have found that fetuses as early as 15 weeks suck their thumbs. Some even speculate that thumb-sucking patterns shown in the womb determine your child's dominant hand out of the womb.

For example, a team of scientists at Queen's University followed 75 fetuses after birth. All 60 of the fetuses who sucked their right thumb in the womb were right-handed when they were 10 to 12 years old.

Of course, scientists are quick to point out that "there is no evidence that the brain has any control over these movements at this stage." So, why do children suck their thumbs?

According to health experts, babies have the natural urge to suck, and this urge typically decreases after the child reaches 6 months. This natural urge encourages children to breastfeed, which leads to nourishment and feelings of comfort.

In many cases, children associate these feelings of comfort with the action of sucking rather than the action of eating. Children may rely on thumb sucking to calm them when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, or bored. This is called "non-nutritive sucking."

Potential Problems Associated With Thumb Sucking
Many children eventually abandon non-nutritive sucking when they learn new ways to calm themselves. This usually occurs between the ages of 2 and 4, though some children continue the habit for longer.

However, children who persist in the habit are at risk for dental and speech development problems. Thumb sucking pushes the teeth outward, causing a misaligned bite. As your child tries to speak around his or her thumb, he or she may have difficulty saying T's and D's, or your child may develop a lisp.

When Should You Intervene?
The problems associated with thumb sucking may seem serious, but orthodontic treatment and speech therapy can easily correct the problem. You don't have to intervene until your child's permanent teeth begin to appear.

Additionally, not all thumb sucking is damaging. Children who passively rest their thumbs in their mouths are less likely to have dental or speech problems than children who vigorously and consistently suck their thumbs.

Observe your child's technique: if he or she sucks vigorously, then you may want to curb the habit at an earlier age (around 4 years). If you notice a change in your child's teeth or mouth, consult your dentist for tips.

Help Your Child Kick the Habit
If you're worried about your child's thumb-sucking habit, consider using these tips to thwart the behavior without discouraging or punishing your child.

  • Cover your child's finger with a sock or a glove. Special mittens or plastic thumb guards can make sucking difficult.

  • Limit the time your child sucks his or her thumb. Perhaps tell your child that this activity should only be performed during nap time or at night.

  • Use positive reinforcement. Praise your child or give rewards when he or she avoids thumb-sucking behavior.

  • Identify triggers and address the issue at hand. Your child may be anxious or afraid and seeking comfort. Give your child a pillow or stuffed animal to hold instead.

  • Offer gentle reminders. Your child might not even realize what he or she is doing.

  • Try a substitute activity. Note the times your child is most likely to suck on his or her thumb, such as watching television. Distract your child with finger puppets to play with or a rubber ball to squeeze.


These tips reinforce good behavior without creating negative attention toward thumb sucking. While you encourage your child to make the change, it's important that you:

  • Do not cover your child's thumb with bad-tasting chemicals or flavors. This is unjust punishment for your child who is only seeking comfort and security.

  • Do not criticize or embarrass your child. Some children suck their thumbs for attention, even if that attention is negative.

  • Do not pressure your child. He or she will stop when ready. The pressure may intensify the desire to suck on his or her thumb even more.


As you try to discourage the habit, be patient. Keep in mind that most children stop on their own if given enough time.

When to Seek Professional Treatment
If your child's permanent teeth begin to erupt and he or she has the habit of thumb-sucking, speak with your pediatric dentist for advice. Your dentist can create a plan to stop thumb sucking and to keep your child's teeth healthy at the same time.
 
What You Need to Know about Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Sometimes referred to as “bottle mouth” or early childhood carries, baby bottle tooth decay can occur in children ages 6 months to several years old. Because many parents experience an easier bedtime routine when they give their child a bottle, it’s an increasing problem.

Although dentists realize the causes behind this decay, few parents know baby bottle tooth decay is even an issue. This blog post will help inform and educate readers about the condition, as well as how to avoid common negative effects.

What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
The term may seem self-explanatory, but unfortunately babies aren’t the only ones suffering from this type of tooth decay. Depending on your child’s eating habits and upbringing, they may use a bottle of sugary liquid as a sleep aid for years. Although this condition is more common in infants and toddlers, it also manifests itself in children anywhere between ages 3 and 7. But affected age groups aside, let’s discuss the process.

Bottle mouth happens when your child’s teeth pit and decay from long-term exposure to liquids containing sugars. These could include:

  • Milk

  • Formula

  • Juice

  • Soda

  • Anything but water


Usually used as a sleep aid, these sugary liquids create an ideal environment for bacteria and resulting decay. Even if you brush your child’s teeth before bed, the bottle they drink later will undo any attempts at cavity prevention.

As the child falls asleep, it allows the sugary liquid to pool around their front teeth. Their mouth breaks down sugars which become harmful cavity-causing acid. When you give your child a bedtime bottle of milk, formula, or juice, it leaves sugars around their teeth and gums. These sugars feed the bacteria in plaque that then contributes to carries or cavities.

Although less common, bottle mouth and similar decay may come from prolonged breast feeding habits. Another cause could be pacifiers dipped in honey, sugar, or syrup. Parents may unknowingly make a dangerous trade when they exchange a quiet child for poor dental habits.

But Don’t Baby Teeth Fall Out Anyway?
Despite the obvious increase in cavities, some parents may think such practices are acceptable since baby teeth fall out anyway. However, if decay persists, it can cause pain and eventual tooth extraction. If your child loses their baby teeth too early, this can lead to:

  • Poor eating habits

  • Disruptive sleep patterns

  • Speech problems

  • Crooked or crowded adult teeth


Even though your child’s baby teeth are temporary, they act as placeholders for adult teeth. Also, a healthy mouth full of baby teeth is much more likely to yield a healthy adult mouth (and teeth). Remember: your child begins developing habits early on. It’s up to you to help them create healthy dental habits for a happy and healthy future.

How Can You Avoid This Type of Decay?
If you’re currently giving your toddler a bottle of milk at night, you might be thinking it’s impossible and even cruel to just stop. But you don’t have to do everything all at once. With the ultimate goal in mind, start with these simple steps:

  • Slowly dilute their bedtime bottle with water

  • After a period of 2-3 weeks, switch to plain water

  • Decrease sugar intake, especially between meals

  • Discourage snacks after dinner and before bed

  • Wean them from a bottle as soon as possible



In addition to making gradual diet and bedtime routine changes over time, you can also increase cavity protection. Some helpful tips include:

  • Wipe infant’s gums with a clean damp cloth after feeding

  • Use a child toothbrush and paste to brush teeth twice a day

  • Limit toothpaste amounts and make sure it’s not swallowed

  • Use only milk, breast milk, or formula in bottles

  • Ensure they finish their bottle before bed

  • Keep pacifiers clean and free of sugary matter

  • Encourage your child to use a cup around age 1


Every child is different and requires various parenting techniques to form successful habits. With that in mind, accept that the process of weaning may take time and patience. Help your child develop a healthy future by teaching them proper dental care.

Can Visiting the Dentist Help?
You may feel that your toddler is too young to go to the dentist, but this is not the case. According to the Canadian Dental Association, children should first visit within 6 months of their first tooth or at age 1, whichever comes first.

Some good reasons to begin dental visits early on include:

  • Seeing if your brushing is working

  • Fixing potential problems early on

  • Helping your child become comfortable with dental visits


You can avoid painful tooth decay and other issues with regular visits to a dentist that offers pediatric care. This allows your child to become accustomed to the experience, and helps them know it’s a positive thing. Read our previous blog post for Tips to Get Your Kids Excited for the Dentist, then call us to set up an appointment.
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