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What Are the Effects of Thumb Sucking on the Teeth and Mouth?

What Are the Effects of Thumb Sucking on the Teeth and Mouth?

Does thumb sucking damage teeth?

Not all thumb sucking results in damage to the teeth or mouth. For example, passively holding the thumb in the mouth doesn’t typically cause damage. However, active thumb sucking with a lot of motion can cause damage to primary (baby) teeth, though this usually corrects itself as the permanent teeth come in. Persistent, vigorous thumb sucking can sometimes cause misalignment of your child’s permanent teeth and affect the jaw or the shape and roof of the mouth. Thumb sucking may also expose your child to dirt, bacteria, and viruses.

A study, reported in Pediatrics, found that children who suck their thumbs were less likely to experience allergic reactions to substances such as pollen and dust mites later on in life. So, deciding when, or even if, you may want to discourage thumb sucking involves various factors.

Long-term effects of thumb sucking on the mouth

Vigorous thumb sucking can have many effects on the teeth and mouth. That’s because of the repetitive pressure the thumb and sucking places on the teeth, jawbone, and roof of the mouth. It may cause any of the following:

  • overbite, where the front teeth protrude out from the jaw and mouth

  • other bite issues, such as the bottom teeth tipping inward toward the back of the mouth or an open bite, where the top and bottom teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed

  • changes to the shape of the jaw, which can also affect the alignment of the teeth and speech patterns, such as the development of a lisp

  • sensitivity of the roof of the mouth

Most of these issues resolve or won’t develop at all if thumb sucking drops off by the time the permanent teeth are in. Children who suck their thumb for a long time and continue sucking their thumb vigorously may be at increased risk for these side effects.

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