Does Thumb Sucking Affect Your Child’s Health

June 8, 2022
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Thumb sucking helps babies fall asleep, but children often keep the habit during and even beyond their toddler years as a mechanism for stress relief. Despite its therapeutic effects, older kids who continue sucking their thumbs could develop dental issues. While they may not require an emergency dentist in Issaquah, these problems have their own complications.

a little girl sucking thumb after visiting an emergency Dentist in Issaquah

Effects of Thumb Sucking on a Child’s Dental Health

This simple habit can have long-term repercussions on the child’s dental health. Below are some of the complications that could result from thumb sucking.

Thumb Sucking Can Cause Malocclusion

Thumb sucking puts pressure on your child’s front teeth. Sustaining this behavior will lead to the upper teeth jutting forward ahead of the lower teeth. On the other hand, the thumb and pressure push the lower teeth backwards. These factors create a gap between the two sets of teeth when your kid closes their mouth.

Teeth are supposed to align when the mouth is closed, but crooked teeth can cover their lower counterparts instead of resting on top of them. Not all teeth may be affected, but what few are affected become misaligned.  

Children Who Suck Their Thumbs Can Develop a Lisp

The tongue moves naturally forward and backward when a person speaks. However, when the tongue encounters barriers or moves abnormally, the child may develop a lisp. A lisp occurs when the speaker misarticulates certain phonetic sounds when talking. The speech may sound slurred, or the individual pronounces certain sounds with a hiss.

Children with misaligned teeth commonly experience the dental lisp, one of the four types of lisps recognized by the Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs.

Thumb Sucking Can Cause Problems in Biting and Chewing

Malocclusion, a side effect of thumb sucking, gives way to issues in biting and chewing. Individuals with crooked teeth may have to bite and grind harder to break down food to digestible bits. Sometimes, the food that enters the digestive tract has not been adequately broken down and may cause indigestion or hyperacidity.  

Bite issues could also lead to injuries in the temporomandibular joints. TMJs are the joints that connect the upper jaw to the lower jaw. TMJ disorders cause pain, tinnitus, migraines, and even vertigo.

Thumb Suckers Can Develop Sleep Apnea

Last but not least, thumbsucking children can develop sleep apnea if their jaw issues are not fixed before adulthood.  

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder characterized by multiple brief pauses in breathing while asleep. The culprit for these disruptions is an obstructed airway that collapses during sleep. The small passage forces the body to work harder to restart breathing. Unfortunately, it moves the person from deep to light sleep.

The breaks reduce sleep quality and result in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and depression. OSA can lead to life-threatening conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and a higher risk for cardiac diseases if not treated.

Tips for Helping Your Child Break the Habit

Children who persist in doing it beyond four years of age are at risk for the problems outlined above. This should be a red flag for you as a parent. You should take steps to wean your child from this habit.  

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Employ positive reinforcement and encourage any behavior that moves away from thumbsucking.
  • Seek the help of your pediatric dentist in explaining the consequences of their actions.
  • Take note of what situations trigger your child’s thumbsucking mannerisms and learn how to control their impulses.
  • Use orthodontic devices as well as thumb shields.
an Emergency Dentist in Issaquah checking a child's teeth

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Visit your pediatric dentist in Issaquah if you think your child’s habits are causing them dental issues. Don’t hesitate to call us now and schedule a visit.

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