Aspen Dentist Explains How Thumb Sucking Affects a Child’s Teeth

Aspen Dentist Explains How Thumb Sucking Affects a Child’s Teeth

Babies are born with a reflex for suckling. That action provides nourishment when they are nursing. Children learn to suck on a thumb, finger or pacifier because it mimics that happy feeding state. Before a child’s permanent teeth have come in, there is little if any downside to thumb sucking. However, as we tell families at our Aspen dentist office, if a child continues to suck their thumb or a pacifier regularly, that behavior can be harmful.

Issues Caused by Thumb Sucking

Over time, a sucking habit can cause a number of issues. For example, it can result in the narrowing of the palate (the roof of the mouth). It may also cause improper alignment of existing teeth and problems with the eruption of new teeth. As a result, a child may have bite issues and malocclusion (incorrect positioning of the teeth when the mouth is closed).

Continued thumb sucking can also alter breathing and swallowing actions. And, the sum of these issues can be poor speech development. What’s more, while it is an issue that resolves quickly, calluses and sores on thumbs or fingers can be painful.

When to Take Action

Every child’s situation is unique, but a good target is to have eliminated thumb sucking or pacifier use by around 18 months of age. To that end, it may be easier to break a pacifier habit, since it is something you can take away. If a child has reached the point that they are talking while they have their thumb or a pacifier in their mouth, it is more likely that that will interfere with normal speech development.

How to Resolve a Thumb Sucking Habit

In order to help your child break a thumb sucking habit, first try to determine if there is an obvious cause. If your child is anxious, bored, etc., do what you can to address that issue. Then, explain that it’s time to let go of that behavior, and praise your child whenever they resist the urge. If thumb sucking occurs somewhat automatically as your child falls asleep, have them wear mittens to bed and consider substituting another form of soothing like soft music.

Assisting Families with the Full Spectrum of Oral Health Challenges

At our Aspen dentist office, we feel that good oral health is a team effort. That’s why we are always available to talk with parents about any issues they encounter with their kids. To make an appointment with Dr. Steinbach or Dr. Van Gorden, call 970-279-5647 or connect with us online at

We’ve proudly provided comprehensive dental care to Basalt, Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and surrounding Colorado areas for 25 years.