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How Thumb Sucking Negatively Affects Teeth and What to Do About It

Do you delight in watching your thumb-sucking toddler sleep? Sadly, while a small child with a thumb in their mouth is adorable, this habit can set your child up for years of dental woes. Let’s look at why, after a childhood spent thumb sucking, teeth struggle to show their best smile in adulthood.

Thumb Sucking and Young Children

Is there anything sweeter than watching your infant self-soothe by sucking on their thumb? Who hasn’t breathed a sigh of satisfaction when their cranky toddler finally falls asleep with a thumb in their mouth? The answer is that parents throughout time have rejoiced in the power of thumb sucking to soothe a young child.

However, while the American Dental Association says that there is nothing wrong with a young child sucking on their thumb, there comes an age when it’s time to break the thumb sucking habit. Indeed, it’s essential to break the habit well before the time when a child’s permanent teeth first begin to appear. Keep reading to find out how, through thumb sucking, permanent teeth can end up needing a lifetime of expensive dental care.

Thumb Sucking and Teeth

Thumb sucking is one of those things in life that is fine for an infant and toddler but can become a problem if it persists into the preschool years. A child risks damaging the alignment of incoming permanent teeth if they are still sucking their thumb when permanent teeth start to appear.

Sadly, we often see the results of prolonged childhood thumb sucking on teeth in our orthodontic practice. Too many teenage patients come to us with severely misaligned smiles after a childhood spent with a finger in their mouths. Misalignments in a teenager’s bite often show up as:

  • Crooked Teeth
  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crowded Teeth

Along with the appearance of the teeth, other symptoms of a misaligned bite include such things as difficulty chewing, tooth decay, speech issues, and mouth breathing. Over time, an untreated bite problem can lead to jaw pain and significant wear and tear on the teeth.

Correcting Misaligned Teeth

Unless your child’s misaligned bite is minimal, there’s a strong chance that your dentist will suggest an orthodontic consultation. At the initial consultation, the orthodontist will take complete x-rays and perform an extensive examination to determine if orthodontic correction should take place to correct the problem.

If your orthodontist believes that orthodontic treatment is necessary to fix the misalignment, the treatment options vary according to the severity of the bite’s misalignment. Typical orthodontic treatments to correct a lousy chomper include:

  • Extraction of teeth to reduce overcrowding
  • Invisalign
  • Braces

Braces are an orthodontic treatment of choice for many people who suffer from improperly aligned teeth. One of the terrific benefits of wearing braces to correct a bite problem is that braces can successfully improve even the worst types of bite issues. Read on to learn how to care for your child’s smile while they wear braces.

How to Care for Braces

It can take years to correct misaligned teeth with braces. During that time, your child must protect their teeth and gums from such things as decay and gum disease. We won’t pretend that cleaning the teeth around the metal and wires that come with braces is an easy task, because it’s not.

Although not a simple job, daily oral cleaning is vital to a beautiful smile in the future. You can help your child’s former thumb sucking teeth correction to run more smoothly through adhering to the following oral health steps.


There is no substitute for brushing teeth a minimum of two times a day for at least thirty seconds at a time. Look for a toothpaste that contains fluoride for total cavity busting power.


Who enjoys flossing? Don’t forget to pester your child about flossing each day. Flossing is the most sure-fire way to get all of those itty bitty bits of food out from between teeth. Failure to floss can result in cavities and the start of gum disease.

Oral Rinse

Consider adding an oral rinse to your teenager’s daily oral health routine. Rinsing with an effective oral cleaner is an efficient way to wash away any food debris that remains stuck between the teeth and braces after meals. Read here for information about oral rinses and braces.


We know that it can feel next to impossible to monitor the food intake of the average braces-wearing teenager. Still, it’s worthwhile to try and remind your teen about healthy eating and drinking habits while wearing braces. Here’s an excellent article on food to eat and avoid while wearing braces.

Change Elastics

Your orthodontist will recommend how often to change the elastics that go with braces, and your teenager must follow the advice. The elastics must function correctly to help the metal braces to do their job. Tired rubber bands aren’t taut enough to work effectively.

Fortunately, rubber bands for braces come in many different colors and patterns. You’ll probably find that switching out the elastics might be the one thing about wearing braces that your teen won’t neglect to remember. Read more about how elastics can be a fashion statement here.

It’s Never Too Late

Is it ever too late to fix your smile? Although we’ve focused on teenagers in this article, it’s never too late to improve your bite. We see many adults at our orthodontic practice, and we happily tell them that a beautiful smile is never beyond reach.

As Harvard Medical School notes, you’ll need to work harder to correct your smile with braces than would your sixteen-year-old counterpart. The bones in your jaw finished growing by the time that you reached adulthood, and it’s more challenging to fix an alignment issue completely. Still, with patience and effort, there is a strong chance that you’ll end up with a smile that makes you want to smile.

When it comes to prolonged childhood thumb sucking, teeth tend to end up misaligned. The positive news is that there is help for a misaligned bite. It’s never too late to turn a mouth filled with crowded, ill-matching teeth into a smile that you’ll be delighted to share with the world.

Contact us at Smiles for Life Orthodontics in Flower Mound, TX, for a painless assessment of your orthodontic needs.

American Dental Association American Association of Orthodontists Texas Association of Orthodontists Southwestern Society of Orthodontists
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