Question: My child is four years old and is still sucking his thumb regularly. Is this a behavior that I need to be worried about and stop now? How will it affect his teeth in the long run?
This is a question that many parents have when raising a child. It’s fairly common for a child to suck their thumb, or another finger, out of comfort, habit, or both. The short answer is that there will be no permanent damage if the child stops sucking his thumb by around age six. If thumb-sucking persists until the early teens, you may have some dental issues down the line.
The main problems that kids that have sucked their thumb, or another finger, for years is misalignment of teeth, prevention of normal bone growth, and a slight curve to the teeth that can develop over years of thumb-sucking.
If you’re the parent of a thumb-sucker, it’s best to not make too much of a fuss about the behavior until your child is around four or five years old, or when he enters kindergarten. He could develop a complex about the behavior, or not fully understand the ramifications of the behavior and intentionally keep thumb-sucking. When a child loses his baby teeth and begins to grow adult teeth, you should start taking things a bit more seriously.
A child that is over seven years old and still sucking his thumb will most likely need some intervention on your part. There are a number of suggested ways to stop a child from sucking his thumb, so do some research to choose the method that will work best for you and your child. At school, many children will face peer pressure and stop the behavior on their own. Others will need something more concrete, like a bitter nail paint put on the thumb to discourage sucking.
Keep you child’s dentist in the loop if your son or daughter is a thumb-sucker so that your dentist can monitor the growth and formation of your child’s teeth as her or she ages. If permanent damage is done by long-term thumb-sucking, an orthodontist will be able to suggest methods such as braces or Invisalign to correct the damage that has been done.