Many babies suck their thumbs, often as a means of comfort when they are tired or feeling poorly or sleepy. In the early stages, babies can take a lot of reassurance from sucking their thumb, but prolonged thumb-sucking and using bottles and dummies can have serious implications for oral health and the development of the teeth. As dentists, we advise parents to try and discourage thumb-sucking as a baby grows and to try and encourage them to use a cup, rather than a bottle once they reach the age of 12 months old.
What harm does thumb-sucking do?
Thumb sucking can have a negative impact on the development and alignment of the teeth and the front teeth can be particularly badly affected. Children who suck their thumbs are more likely to have misaligned teeth and protruding front teeth, as the action of the thrusting the tongue can cause the teeth to move forward and stick out at an angle.
Thumb sucking can also contribute to speech problems, most commonly the development of a lisp.
How can I stop it?
It can be much more difficult to preventing your children from sucking their thumbs than a dummy because the thumb happens to be attached to them making it harder to simply take it off them; however, there are ways to discourage children. Tips from parents, doctors and dentists include rewarding good behaviour and providing alternatives, distracting children so that they don’t even think about sucking their thumbs and charting their progress on a plan.
A good idea is to avoid nagging all the time, as this can be counter-productive and to encourage children to make it seem like the child is making an independent, grown up choice to stop; focus on the positives and offer constant encouragement. If you have any worries, don’t hesitate to ask for advice.