Soothing or Harmful? Unraveling the Impact of Thumbsucking on Your Child’s Dental Health

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As parents, we often seek to provide the best care and comfort for our children. It’s no surprise that thumbsucking is a common practice among infants and toddlers, as it often serves as a soothing mechanism that brings a sense of security and solace. But have you ever wondered how this seemingly innocent habit might affect your child’s dental health? If so, what are the effects of thumbsucking on teeth? 

How does thumbsucking affect teeth?

effects of thumbsucking on teeth

Thumbsucking may seem harmless, but its effects on your child’s dental health can be significant. To understand why, let’s first take a closer look at the mechanics of this habit. When a child sucks their thumb, they apply consistent pressure to their developing teeth and jaw.

This continuous pressure from thumbsucking can lead to several potential dental issues, especially if the habit persists as your child grows. It’s essential to recognize that children’s dental structures are still developing, and external forces like thumbsucking can impact their alignment and positioning.

Dental Issues Associated with Thumbsucking

One of the most common dental issues linked to thumbsucking is an overbite, where the upper front teeth protrude forward over the lower front teeth. Additionally, an open bite may develop, causing a gap between the upper and lower front teeth when the mouth is closed. Misalignment of teeth, such as crooked or crowded teeth, can also result from prolonged thumbsucking.

What are the benefits of thumbsucking?

  • Comfort and Soothing: It’s no secret that thumbsucking can bring comfort and solace to young children. For many infants and toddlers, sucking their thumb provides a sense of security and reassurance, especially during times of stress, anxiety, or fatigue. It often acts as a natural, instinctive way for them to self-soothe and find comfort in the world around them.
  • Self-Soothing Mechanism: Thumbsucking can be a valuable self-soothing mechanism for babies. It allows them to regulate their emotions, calm themselves down, and cope with the various challenges they encounter as they explore their environment. This ability to self-soothe through thumbsucking can be particularly helpful for both the child and the parents, as it can contribute to a more relaxed and contented family dynamic.

Moderation is Key

It’s important to emphasize that not all thumbsucking is detrimental. In fact, moderate thumbsucking during infancy and early toddlerhood is generally considered harmless. Many children naturally outgrow the habit as they become more independent and find alternative ways to comfort themselves.

Is it okay for a baby to sleep with their thumb in their mouth?

While thumbsucking can provide comfort to your child, it’s essential to be aware of the potential effects of thumbsucking on teeth and their general health during sleep. When a baby sleeps with their thumb in their mouth, the habit may become more prolonged and intense, increasing the likelihood of dental problems over time.

One of the primary concerns is that thumbsucking during sleep may exert continuous pressure on the developing teeth and jaw, increasing the risk of dental misalignment, such as an overbite or open bite. Additionally, as children are less aware of their actions during sleep, it can be challenging to monitor and address the habit effectively.

Managing Nighttime Thumbsucking

If you’ve noticed that your child tends to thumbsuck during sleep, there are several strategies you can implement:

  1. Offer Comfort Items: Provide a comforting stuffed animal or blanket as an alternative to thumbsucking, encouraging your child to self-soothe using these items instead.
  2. Gentle Reminder: Speak with your child during the day about the importance of not thumbsucking during sleep. Gentle reminders can help raise their awareness.
  3. Thumb Covers: Consider using thumb covers or guards, which can make it physically more challenging for your child to thumbsuck during sleep.
  4. Consult a Pediatric Dentist: If you have concerns about nighttime thumbsucking and its potential impact on dental health, consult a pediatric dentist. They can offer guidance and suggest appropriate interventions if necessary.

Monitoring as They Grow: As your child grows, their dental health needs may change. Continue to monitor the effects of thumbsucking on teeth and be prepared to take action if you notice any concerning developments. Remember that many children naturally outgrow thumbsucking, and it’s essential to strike a balance between providing comfort and ensuring their dental well-being.

Is Thumbsucking Better Than Using a Pacifier?

As parents, you may be wondering which option—thumbsucking or using a pacifier—is the better choice for your child’s well-being. Here are the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision:



  • Always Accessible: Your child’s thumb is readily available, providing immediate comfort without the need for additional items.
  • Natural Instinct: Thumbsucking is a natural instinct that many children develop on their own.
  • No Added Cost: Unlike pacifiers, thumbsucking doesn’t require ongoing purchases.


  • Dental Concerns: Thumbsucking can exert constant pressure on teeth and jaws, potentially leading to dental issues.
  • Difficult to Control: Parents have limited control over a child’s thumbsucking habit, making it harder to manage or wean.
  • Hygiene: Thumbs are not as easily sanitized as pacifiers, potentially raising hygiene concerns.


effects of thumbsucking on teeth


  • Designed for Dental Health: Many pacifiers are designed with orthodontic shapes that are less likely to cause dental problems.
  • Controlled Usage: Parents can introduce, remove, or limit pacifier use, providing more control over the habit.
  • Hygiene: Pacifiers can be easily sanitized and replaced for better hygiene.


  • Dependency: Children can become dependent on pacifiers, leading to potential issues if they are lost or not readily available.
  • Potential Dental Risks: Overuse of pacifiers, especially during sleep, may still pose some dental risks.
  • Weaning Challenge: Weaning a child off a pacifier can be challenging, just like breaking the thumbsucking habit.

Choosing Between the Two

The choice between thumbsucking and pacifier use ultimately depends on your child’s comfort, your ability to manage the habit, and your preferences as parents. Many parents find that a combination of both methods can work well for their child’s needs.

Expert Advice on Preventing the Effects of Thumbsucking on Teeth

Understanding the potential effects of thumbsucking on teeth is essential. However, it’s equally important to know how to manage the habit effectively. Here’s some advice for parents:

effects of thumbsucking on teeth

  1. Gentle Reminder and Positive Reinforcement: Encourage your child to avoid thumbsucking during the day gently. Praise and reward them when they refrain from thumbsucking, providing positive reinforcement.
  2. Comfort Items: Offer alternative comfort items, such as a favorite stuffed animal, soft blanket, or a special toy. Encourage your child to use these items as substitutes for thumbsucking when seeking comfort.
  3. Thumb Covers or Guards: Consider using thumb covers or guards that make it physically more challenging for your child to thumbsuck. These devices can serve as a reminder to avoid the habit. 
  4. Nighttime Strategies: If nighttime thumbsucking is a concern, discuss it with your child during the day to raise awareness. Implement comfort items or thumb covers specifically for sleep. 
  5. Encourage Self-Awareness: Help your child become more self-aware of when they thumbsuck and why they do it. Discuss healthier alternatives for managing stress or anxiety, such as deep breathing or talking about their feelings.
  6. Pediatric Dentist Consultation: Schedule regular visits to a pediatric dentist who can monitor your child’s dental development and offer guidance on managing thumbsucking. A dentist can provide interventions or recommend orthodontic treatments if necessary.
  7. Patience and Understanding: Be patient with your child’s efforts to stop thumbsucking, as it may take time. Avoid negative reinforcement or punishment, as it can create additional stress.
  8. Gradual Weaning: If your child is older and still thumbsucking, work together on gradually reducing the habit. Create a reward system for achieving milestones in reducing or quitting thumbsucking.+
  9. Seek Professional Help if Needed: If the habit persists or leads to significant dental issues, consult with a pediatric dentist or orthodontist for professional intervention.

Invest in Your Child’s Smile Health Today!

At Kangaroo Smiles, we’re committed to providing top-notch pediatric dental care to children and families in Massachusetts and beyond. Our experienced, professional, and dedicated team of pediatric dental experts is here to help your child achieve a healthy, comfortable smile. We understand the importance of personalized and comprehensive dentistry, the kind of care we’d want for our own children.

Whether you’re in Lowell, Methuen, Essex County, Lawrence, North Andover, Salem, or any surrounding area, Kangaroo Smiles welcomes you to experience the benefits of optimal oral health.

Schedule an appointment today, and let us partner with you in ensuring your child’s dental well-being!