How Can Thumb Sucking Affect Your Child’s Teeth?

Thumb-sucking is a very common habit among children and can be seen in adults as well. It’s a non-nutritive habit, meaning that in doing so, the child isn’t getting any nutrition.

While it’s considered to be normal and even a natural reflex in children (some even do it in the womb), after a certain age, it can cause quite a few problems, including their teeth. 

And it’s important to understand the relationship between thumb sucking and teeth, as it can cause oral issues that can require expensive dental treatments later on. Therefore, it’s a good idea to understand why your child might be sucking their thumb and what you can do to help them.

How Can Thumb Sucking Effect The Teeth?

Thumb-sucking can lead to tooth wear and malocclusion and may even affect oral functions, such as talking and eating. Because of the forces applied to the teeth by the sucking of the thumb, one way in which the teeth can be affected is through the development of an overbite, also known as buck teeth – where the teeth in the upper jaw are protruded above the lower ones.


An overbite such as this can make the teeth more vulnerable to a traumatic injury. Additionally, it can cause issues in speech and eating and make it difficult for the person to keep their teeth clean, which can then cause issues like tooth decay.

The American Association of Orthodontists also warns of the development of other types of malocclusion, such as an open bite – when your teeth don’t line up on closing the jaw, leaving an opening – and a crossbite – when lower teeth sit in front of the teeth in the upper jaw. 

Because of the way the teeth are positioned in an open bite, they can experience more wear than normal. Additionally, it can also cause eating difficulties. 

Open bite
Open bite

Other than that, a crossbite can also be accompanied by a range of problematic symptoms, such as headaches, pain, excessive teeth wear, decay, and jaw problems. etc.

Crossbite/Image credit: Ceyhan D, Akdik C. Taking a Glance at Anterior Crossbite in Children: Case Series. Contemp Clin Dent. 2017;8(4):679-682. doi:10.4103/ccd.ccd_633_17/CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

According to the NHS, how the teeth are affected can, however, vary depending on the following factors: 

  • The frequency of thumb sucking 
  • The duration of thumb sucking 
  • The intensity of thumb sucking 
  • How the thumb is positioned inside the mouth 

Even so, keeping the long-term effects of these problems in mind, you should keep a diligent eye out for your child’s thumb-sucking habits. 

At What Age Do Children Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

Per the NHS, while thumb-sucking is common among children, they usually stop engaging in the habit by the age of 4. However, keep in mind that it’s not what always happens. Some children continue to suck their thumb at a later age, and even adults might do so. 

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumb?

There are different explanations for why children suck their thumbs, such as:

  • For self-comfort – Children might try to soothe or comfort themselves by sucking their thumbs. This could happen when they’re in a stressful situation or even when going to bed.
  • Natural reflex – According to the American Dental Association, thumb sucking is a natural reflex among children. It not only gives them a sense of security, but it also makes them happy and learn about their surroundings.
baby sucking thumb

There have been other explanations of it as well. To have a proper understanding of why your child’s sucking their thumb, especially past the age that’s considered normal, you should get in touch with a doctor.

How Can You Stop Your Baby From Thumb Sucking?

There are different measures that may be taken to stop your child from sucking their thumb, such as:

  • Use a thumb guard/glove Putting a physical barrier between the thumb and the child’s mouth through a thumb guard or glove.
  • Understand thumb-sucking patterns – Try and understand what exactly makes your child want to suck their thumb (certain times or situations) and in that, you can try to comfort them and/or engage them in a different activity so they use their hands for something else.
  • Positive reinforcement – Instead of reprimanding or shaming them, you can consider positive reinforcement, such as encouraging them and appreciating them when they don’t suck their thumb. You can also reward them if they complete a weekly or monthly streak.
  • Make your child understand – Again, instead of shaming your child or making them socially embarrassed, you can try to have a conversation with your child telling them why you want to stop sucking their thumb and what can happen if they continue to do so.

There are also habit-breaking appliances that you can talk to your dentist about. Keep in mind that if a child’s teeth are damaged by thumb sucking, it can require extensive orthodontic treatment through braces. Teeth wear can also increase the risk of tooth decay, and cause other problems for the child.

braces wearing child


Thumb sucking might be nothing to worry about in the early years of your child’s life, but if it becomes a “prolonged” habit, it can cause long-term and permanent damage to their teeth.

While there are some things that you can try at home to stop them from sucking their thumb, it’s a good idea to consult a medical professional as well for advice on what you can do. It can save you the time and money to be spent on any future treatments.

Reviewed and approved by Dr Izbel Aksit


Is thumb-sucking good for a baby?

While thumb sucking may help a baby calm itself down, it’s not a good habit for them past a certain age as it can affect not only their teeth but also the skin of their hand and the nails.

At what age can thumb-sucking cause a dental problem?

According to the British Orthodontic Society, after the age of 7, thumb sucking can permanently impact the position of the teeth, and at that stage, teeth become less likely to fix themselves.  

Does thumb-sucking mean baby is hungry?

Your child may suck their thumb when they’re feeling hungry. But thumb-sucking isn’t always indicative of that. Babies can do it to comfort themselves in situations where they’re stressed, or they might also do so when they’re bored. 

Is a pacifier better than thumb sucking for teeth?

As noted by Mayo Clinic, there are some benefits to using a pacifier, such as that it may lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or that it’s something that you can take away from your child when you want them to stop. However, even using a pacifier for a long time can affect the teeth of your child.

Open chat
Hello would you like a free e-consult?
Hello would you like a free treatment plan and a price quote?

Tap the icon at the right bottom to make an enquiry.