What are the Effects of Prolonged Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking habit is common in babies and young children. It can have a soothing and comforting effect and kids generally break the habit naturally. However, if the children are still continuing to suck their thumbs by the age 5-6 when permanent teeth are beginning to erupt, there may be reason to be concerned. Prolonged thumb sucking can have lasting negative effects on teeth and overall health.
  1. It can lead to growth impediments of the upper jaw, frequently modifying the natural shape of the upper jaw and arch to a narrower one, and oftentimes a higher palate due to excessive pressure of the tongue and finger. Another linked orthodontic repercussion is a reverse fit of top and bottom back teeth – or a 'posterior crossbite'.

  2. Prolonged thumb sucking can also create an ‘open bite’, or a malocclusion defined by front top and front bottom teeth not touching (not meeting or overlapping together) when the child is fully biting. This occurs because the constant force on the upper front teeth from a thumb sucking habit tends to ‘procline’ (or over tilt forward) and ‘intrude’ (or move up vertically) them.

  3. Another common orthodontic problem that can be created from prolonged thumb sucking habit is excessive ‘overjet’ (or space between upper and lower front teeth in front to back dimension). This occurs due to excessive forward pressure of the finger with the thumb sucking habit on upper front teeth.

  4. Prolonged thumb sucking habit can also lead to skin problems and excessive exposure to germs. Constant exposure to saliva and moisture in the mouth can make the skin more vulnerable to other injuries, and may result in callous formation on the preferred thumb. Furthermore, since children wash their hands infrequently and hence more exposure to germs may result in the children becoming sick more frequently.

  5. Since thumb sucking adversely affects the alignment of the teeth and jaw development, thumb sucking may lead to lisp and speech impediments. Frequently, Ts and Ds are more challenging to pronounce, and this may affect sound articulation while speaking. Children with prolonged finger habits may require speech therapy and may even have social ramifications.

  6. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children are evaluated by an orthodontist by the age of 7 in order to screen for habit related and well as other pertinent dental issues that affect dental health, development and growth. If you have any questions or concerns please schedule your complimentary orthodontic evaluation with Orchard of Smiles Orthodontics for a comprehensive assessment of your child’s orthodontic needs.
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