Children Thumb Sucking vs Healthy Teeth

By |2022-08-22T09:25:34+01:00March 10th, 2022|news|0 Comments

Children Thumb Sucking vs Healthy Teeth

Here at Guiney Dental, we are proud to be the go-to family-friendly dentist for Ballincollig’s community. Looking after the whole family lets us know that you are all committed to good oral health. A dentist’s dream!

Oral health needs are different at the various stages of life. As adults, it’s general upkeep, the occasional cosmetic treatment and maybe a dreaded root canal. For children, oral needs mostly centre around hygiene and forming good habits. This includes regular brushing, eating tooth-friendly foods and preventing future issues.

At our clinic of dentists in Ballincollig, thumb sucking is something we help a lot of children and parents with. Thumb sucking is something that can, if left unmanaged, create issues as children become older.

Thumb sucking is a common habit that can be formed before birth, starting as early as in the womb.  You may have even witnessed your unborn child happily sucking their thumb at one of your ultrasound appointments. Generally speaking, thumb sucking is not something to worry about, keep reading to learn more.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

In most cases, children sucking their thumb initially starts out of curiosity. Everything is new, including fingers, toes and thumbs and babies explore these new things using their mouths. After a while, your child might find that sucking their thumb is soothing. This is why so many thumb suckers do it at bedtime – they are self-soothing to fall asleep.

Having found this method of self-soothing that they like so much, children can go on to develop a habit. You might notice that your child pops their thumb in their mouth when they are bored or even when they are hungry.

Our dentists at our Ballincollig clinic also noticed that children who are worried or scared tend to suck their thumbs. As an infant and toddler, this is perfectly normal. If a child continues thumb sucking beyond five years old, ask for assistance to help establish the cause.

At What Age Should A Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

 With a habit like thumb sucking, early intervention is the best strategy. This is simply because, like any habit, the longer we have it the harder it is to break.

We recommend getting a child to stop sucking their thumb before the age of three for the sake of ease. To prevent problems with oral or dental health, thumb sucking must absolutely stop by the age of six. At this stage of development, your child’s adult teeth are forming which are harder to correct.

Dentist Tip: To help your child feel comfortable at the dentist it helps that parents talk about it in a positive way. If you think your child is worried, talk to your dentist. Ballincollig’s Guiney Dental team are always happy to help you reduce any worry and stress.

How Thumb Sucking Impacts Children’s Teeth

As innocent as thumb sucking is, prolonged thumb sucking often has detrimental effects on a child’s teeth. Additionally, vigorous and frequent reliance on thumb sucking can lead to the jaw becoming misaligned. Problems caused by thumb sucking include:

A Crossbite

This is the most frequent thumb sucking impact that our team of dentists in Ballincollig see. A crossbite is a form of jaw misalignment. When the upper teeth don’t align correctly with the lower counterparts, this is a crossbite. Untreated crossbites can cause pain in the jaw and even headaches. Correcting a crossbite involves either wearing braces or, in severe cases, jaw surgery. Correction can take up to three years.


Thumbsucking can also cause an overbite. Your upper set of teeth is designed to naturally overlap the lower set slightly. This way, when closed, your teeth sit comfortably in your mouth. An overbite from thumb sucking occurs because the roof of the mouth is pushed up and becomes narrower. In turn, this pushes the upper teeth forward into an extended overbite. Correcting an overbite using braces is possible in some cases. By using braces, we are able to pull the teeth back into position. In extreme overbite cases, corrections may need to be made to the jawbones.

Speech Issue

Not technically a dental health issue, but one to be aware of. You may find that your child’s speech is altered by sucking their thumb. Speech issues caused by sucking the thumb present as impediments and lisps in most cases. Clues that your child’s speech is altered include their pronunciation of the letters T and D. Speech issues can be corrected with speech therapy, which can begin as early as 18 months old.

Tooth Alignment

 As children lose their infant teeth the alignment of the new adult teeth can become misaligned by thumb sucking. This can lead to uneven teeth on the top and bottom jaw. Correcting irregular tooth alignment is typically done with braces. Our Specialist Orthodontist, Ciara O’Neill, works with us at our dentist’s Ballincollig clinic to help children and adults. Seeing an Orthodontist at a young age is an opportunity to catch any problems early on.

How To Stop A Child Sucking Their Thumb

 An important consideration when helping a child break their thumb sucking habit is to ensure you stay calm and reassuring. Children who sense that a parent is stressed will often take on that anxiety themselves. Anxiety that will increase their urge to suck their thumb.

There are many different ways to help a child stop the thumb sucking habit. Every child is different, so not all methods will work with all children. Try one and if that doesn’t work take a break and then move on to the next.

Finger Guards

One safe way to help your child remember not to suck their thumb is with a thumb shield. Thumb Shields place a safe barrier around the thumb that discourages sucking. Available in many forms, the more popular, discreet, versions include glove-like devices. These slip over the thumb and secure at the wrist and are made from fabric. When looking at this option, ensure that the material used is chemical free and safe for children. 

Talk About Alternatives

Thumb sucking mainly comes from a need for comfort. Luckily, there are plenty of alternative ways to help children self-soothe. Start with a gentle conversation about thumb sucking and let your child talk about why they do it. If you sucked your thumb as a child, tell them about it and add that you stopped. It’s ok to explain to children that thumbsucking can cause problems. This helps them understand why you want them to stop. Another route is to use stories like in the book Thumbs Up, Brown Bear to help your child understand better.

Once you have chatted with them about stopping and you understand the ‘why’, offer alternatives. Sometimes this is as simple as offering a cuddly toy as a comforting device. Positive reinforcement and reward charts can also be beneficial.

Bitter Flavours

 Some parents swear by using bitter flavoured foods to stop thumb sucking. Foods that you probably have at home that could be used include pickles, lemon and mild cajun spice. Simply apply them to the thumb of choice and wait. The idea is that your child will come to associate the bitter taste (that they hopefully dislike) with thumb sucking and so stop. The only issue with the natural options is that you need to reapply them often. Another option is to use a bitter nail varnish made specifically for helping thumb suckers break the habit.


Book To See A Family Dentist Today

Looking for a friendly and caring family dentist in Cork? Get in touch with award-winning Guiney Dental in Ballincollig. Sensodyne Sensitive Dentist of the Year! Book an Appointment on 021 4810535 or request an appointment online – here.