Dummies and thumb sucking – what you need to know!

thumb sucking teeth concerns

Dummies and thumb sucking can be very soothing for babies and young children, and often this sucking behaviour is a key signal for them that it is time to fall asleep. For many parents in the early sleep deprived weeks and months (and let’s be honest, years!) of having a child this can be a great thing. Sleep is oh so precious and anything that helps is a bit of a godsend. Sucking on a thumb or a dummy can also be a child’s go-to behaviour when they feel stressed, hungry, bored or a bit emotionally fragile.

Is there a right time to discourage these behaviours? Does sucking on a dummy or thumb have much of an impact on your child’s developing teeth?

The answer is yes, it can. The main issue with continued thumb sucking or dummy use is the impact it can have on the shape of your child’s mouth and what this means when they begin to get their permanent teeth. If thumb sucking or dummy use continues until the time the adult teeth are beginning to come in, or if the sucking is particularly hard, then the roof of a child’s mouth (palate) may develop with more of an arch than it should causing what is known as an “open bite”. This is a type of jaw malalignment and means that the upper and lower teeth don’t come together when a child closes their jaw. This arching of the palate may also cause front teeth to be pushed forward resulting in an overbite. This can lead to bite and speech problems and may mean your child develops a lisp. Teeth that jut out, or buck teeth, may be an issue for toddlers and young children who are prone to tripping and falling. It takes time for children to learn to brace themselves with their hands when they fall, so for very young children falling and hitting their face can obviously be painful. When teeth are not in an ideal position there is some increased risk of split lips and cracked teeth. Some research has suggested that dummy use is more linked to developing an overbite/buck teeth than thumb or finger sucking.

So when is the best time to discourage dummy use or thumb sucking?

Ideally before or around age 5. For children who use a dummy, the decision about when to stop is largely in the hands of the parent. Some parents limit their child’s access to their dummy in incremental stages and eventually remove it all together. Others may have a reason to stop more quickly, as may be the case if your child is chewing through their dummies and they are becoming a choking hazard. The right time will be different for everyone. When the time does come, remember that it may be a challenge for your child to learn how to sleep without their dummy. Be sure to offer lots of other comforting measures like cuddles, having a warm bath or shower together, or spend time snuggling up together reading a book before bed. Having another comforter for bed time like a favourite soft toy may be an option depending on the age of your child. SIDS guidelines and safe sleeping should be a priority for very young babies and children.  

Thumb sucking may be a challenging habit to break as, unlike a dummy, it can’t be removed. For these children, praise and positive reinforcement when your child is not sucking their thumb is great, and avoiding scolding them when they are sucking their thumb is important. As thumb sucking may be due to stress, attempting to understand what makes your child feel like sucking their thumb and helping your child find other coping mechanisms is a great idea. Engaging your child in fun activities will help discourage thumb sucking that is due to boredom. 

Here at Tindale Dental Centre in Penrith we understand that these behaviours are common but may be challenging to discourage. We are happy to talk with you about ideas to help your child kick their sucking habit, and encourage you to bring your child in to see us for regular dental check ups. Call today on (02) 4726 5400 for an appointment.