Thumb Sucking: What It Really Does to Children's Teeth​

toddler sucking thumb

If your baby sucks her thumb, you've probably heard the warnings: Thumb sucking will ruin their teeth! Been trying to wrench that little digit out of baby's mouth ever since but struggling? You're not alone. As much as 46 percent of "typically developing" kids under 4 suck their thumbs. And yes, it can damage their teeth. But you can stop pulling that thumb from baby's mouth right now -- and don't bother grabbing a pacifier, because we've gotten some good news from a pediatric dentist.


"Both thumb sucking and pacifier use can shift the teeth unfavorably, creating a bite discrepancy," Dr. David Zirlin, pediatric dentist at White Plains Pediatric Dentistry, tells CafeMom. "The most common dental movement is the upper front teeth (central incisors) move forward and upward, creating an anterior openbite."

Sucking your thumb can also cause maxillary constriction or crowded, crooked teeth, and what's known as a posterior crossbite or misalignment of your dental arches.

But! Zirlin tells parents the "damage" thumb sucking does to your kiddo's teeth is usually not long-term.

"Dental effects directly correlate with frequency, intensity, and duration of the habit," he explains.

If a baby is sucking his or her thumb, it's likely no big deal. What Dr. Zirlin calls "adverse dental effects" typically don't happen until after 24 months of thumb sucking, and they're more significant after 48 months.

Even then, he says, "Many of the effects are reversible and unlikely to cause long-term problems if the habit is discontinued before eruption of the adult teeth."

Considering one survey found only 12 percent of adults still suck their thumbs, chances are your child is going to be just fine!


Image via © VOISIN/phanie/Phanie Sarl/Corbis

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