It is natural for babies to suck on their fingers and thumbs (digits). Although some parents appreciate it when their baby finds his/her thumbs and fingers (as it eliminates the eventual incessant search for the lost pacifier), attitudes frequently change as the child grows and continues sucking on his/her digits.  Parents become concerned and worried that this habit will cause crooked teeth and long term dental problems requiring braces or other corrective orthodontics.

Most Children Stop Sucking Their Thumbs and Fingers by the Age of Five

Most children will discontinue sucking on their digits between the ages of three and five: Typically, children discontinue this practice due to social pressure from their peers or as they find other ways to soothe themselves (stuffed animals, blankets, etc.); however, if a child continues sucking his/her fingers or thumb, dental problems may arise. The most common dental problems associated with thumb sucking are an overbite (buckteeth) and malocclusion (misaligned, crooked teeth). Both of these issues can be corrected by an orthodontist using braces.

Reasons Finger or Thumb Sucking May Cause Dental Problems

The factor that determines whether a child who sucks on his/her digits will have crooked teeth is determined by the intensity of the sucking. Children who simply rest their thumbs or fingers in their mouths are much less likely to have dental problems than children who are aggressive finger or thumb suckers: When a child vigorously sucks on his/her digits, pressure is placed on the roof of the mouth and the top teeth. This pressure can cause the shape of the child’s upper palates and jaws to become altered; thus, leading to dental problems that require correction through cosmetic dentistry. Parents who notice changes in their child’s primary teeth or who are concerned about their child’s digit sucking habit should make an appointment with Dr. Camilo Riaño, who is a premier orthodontist in San Francisco.

Speech Impediments Can Also Be Caused by Thumb Sucking

A child who sucks his/her thumb may have difficulty pronouncing Ds and Ts. In addition, thumb sucking can lead to a thrusting out of the tongue while talking. Furthermore, thumb sucking can cause a lisp to develop.

Does your Child Need to Stop Sucking His/Her Thumb or Fingers?

There are several signs that indicate it is time to help a child discontinue sucking on his/her digits.

  • a child the age of four (or older) sucks on his/her thumb frequently, with great intensity and/or calluses form on the digits;
  • the child asks for help stopping;
  • the child’s teeth are being affected;
  • he/she feels embarrassed, is teased or caused to feel ashamed by others; and/or
  • the child develops speech problems due to sucking on his/her thumb or fingers.

Tips to Help Your Child Stop Sucking on His/Her Digits

  • Frequently, children suck their fingers and thumbs when they feel insecure or need to be comforted; therefore, parents can focus on correcting the cause of their child’s anxiety and providing him/her comfort.
  • Remind him/her to avoid sucking by placing a bandage on his/her thumb (or on one of the fingers that is commonly sucked).
  • Praise the child for not sucking.
  • To keep the child from sucking on his/her digits while sleeping or falling asleep, place a sock on the child’s hand(s) during the night.
  • If you reside in or near San Francisco and your child is at least five years old, Dr. Riaño can encourage him/her to discontinue this habit. Furthermore, he can explain how thumb and finger sucking negatively affects your child’s teeth.
  • There are products specifically designed to help children stop sucking on their digits. If necessary, Dr. Riaño can prescribe one of these products (bitter tasting coating/mouth appliances).

Dr. Camilo Riaño is a premiere orthodontist in San Francisco who is dedicated to providing his patients with the highest quality cosmetic dentistry products and innovative techniques available. He uses the most advanced form of braces and teeth straightening products to correct crooked teeth. Products he uses include traditional metal braces, Incognito® lingual braces, Invisalign® and Invisalign Teen®. If you are looking for an experienced orthodontist, contact Dr. Camilo Riaño’s office today.