Skip to main content

Thumb sucking, jaw growth and teeth

Understanding Thumb Sucking and Its Orthodontic Effects

Thumb sucking is a common and natural reflex for infants and young children. It provides comfort and security, often helping them fall asleep or calm down. However, prolonged thumb sucking beyond the toddler years can lead to significant orthodontic problems. Understanding the potential dental consequences and learning effective strategies to break the habit are crucial for ensuring your child’s long-term oral health.

Orthodontic Issues Caused by Thumb Sucking

Prolonged thumb sucking can exert pressure on the developing mouth and teeth, leading to a variety of orthodontic issues. Some common problems include:

  1. Misaligned Teeth: Continuous thumb sucking can push the upper front teeth forward and the lower front teeth inward, causing an overbite or open bite. This misalignment can affect both the appearance and function of the teeth.
  2. Palate Deformation: The pressure from thumb sucking can cause the roof of the mouth (palate) to become narrower and higher than normal, leading to issues with tooth alignment and proper bite.
  3. Speech Impediments: The changes in the oral structure can result in speech difficulties, such as lisping or trouble pronouncing certain sounds.
  4. Jaw Problems: Extended thumb sucking can affect jaw alignment, potentially leading to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders in severe cases.

Effective Strategies to Break the Thumb Sucking Habit

Breaking the thumb sucking habit requires patience and a combination of strategies tailored to your child’s age and temperament. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your child for not sucking their thumb. Create a reward chart and provide small incentives for each day they avoid the habit. Positive reinforcement can motivate children to break the habit willingly.
  2. Thumb Guards and Covers: Use thumb guards or covers that make thumb sucking less enjoyable. These physical barriers can help deter the habit, especially during sleep.
  3. Distraction Techniques: Keep your child’s hands busy with activities such as playing with toys, drawing, or other engaging tasks. The more occupied their hands are, the less likely they are to revert to thumb sucking.
  4. Behavioural Therapy: For older children, counseling or behavioral therapy can help address the underlying emotional or psychological reasons for thumb sucking. A therapist can provide coping strategies and support.
  5. Gentle Reminders: Consistently and gently remind your child to remove their thumb from their mouth when you notice them sucking. Avoid scolding or punishment, as negative reactions can increase anxiety and reinforce the habit.
  6. Establish a Routine: Create a bedtime routine that includes comfort items such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. This can help reduce the need for thumb sucking as a source of comfort.
  7. Consult Your Dentist or Orthodontist: If the habit persists, consult a dental professional. They can provide customised advice and, if necessary, recommend appliances that discourage thumb sucking.


Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for young children, but prolonged habits can lead to serious orthodontic issues. By understanding the potential impacts and employing effective strategies to break the habit, you can protect your child’s dental health. Consistent and supportive approaches, along with professional guidance when needed, can help your child overcome thumb sucking and ensure a healthy, beautiful smile.

For more personalised advice and treatment options, don’t hesitate to consult our Orthodontist, Dr Maree at Broadbeach Orthodontics. Early intervention can prevent long-term dental problems and promote optimal oral health for your child.

Leave a Reply