Health Team

Thumb sucking can cause long-term dental damage

Posted August 13, 2010

Thumb sucking is the ultimate portable pacifier for babies, but dentists say that long-term thumb sucking can cause permanent damage to children's teeth.

Studies have found that 80 percent of babies suck their thumbs, according to dentists with Metamorphosis Orthodontists, which runs Britain's first thumb-sucking clinic.

"A little bit of soothing when they're really young is a good idea," said orthodontist Dr. Runa Mowla-Copley said.

Potential problems can emerge if the habit lasts long enough, she said.

"Prolonged thumb sucking after the age of four or five can have detrimental effects to the development of the face and jaws," Mowla-Copley said.

Rachel Steib, of London, England, said that thumb sucking caused both dental and social problems for her 9-year-old daughter Jessica.

"Her peers said, 'Why do you look like that? You look like a bunny rabbit,''' Steib said.

Thumb sucking can damage teeth Thumb sucking can damage teeth

After the home remedies  to break thumb sucking failed, Steib brought her daughter to the Metamorphosis clinic. Jessica was fitted with a special retainer.

Orthodontists say the retainer is a last-resort method. It fits inside the child's mouth and prevents the child's thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth. The retainer usually stays in for about nine months.

The retainer is endorsed by the American Orthodontic Society and is used in several clinics across the United States.

Steib said the retainer not only helped fix her daughter's teeth but also broke her thumb-sucking habit.

"That's going to save Jessica and us years of orthodontic treatment," Steib said.

Home remedies to stop thumb sucking include coating the thumb with a bitter substance, a bandage or a sock. Adjustable plastic cylinders, or thumbguards, are also an option.


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  • wildcat Aug 19, 2010

    Also pacifiyers can do a lot of harm and damage. They are ugly to be in a baby's/child's mouth. I had three children and never used one. They all have beautiful teeth today.

  • Jazz124 Aug 16, 2010

    Also, I didn't develop jaw issues until I got braces FYI. It's been proven that braces can cause TMJ.

  • Jazz124 Aug 16, 2010

    I was a thumbsucker until I was 11!!! It wasn't until the day I got braces that I stopped. I was fortunate not to want to suck my thumb in public or around people, but in the comfort of my room with my favorite pillow it was game on! The day I got my braces I decided it was time to stop b/c it would defeat the purpose of the braces. My oldest son is 6 and is dealing w/ the same thing. His teach are coming in crooked and I'm already saving for the braces!! He likes to only do it when he has hair or cotton balled into his hand. But really a child wont stop until they're ready. My twins are 4 and my daughter sucks hers too but not my son. I can already tell she does it less and less b/c she doesn't have that comfort prop like my son and I did.

  • Dirty_Water Aug 16, 2010

    This is news? THIS IS NEWS?

    Well, Peter Allen is credited with saying "Everything old is new again."

    As far as personal anecdotes go, first born sucked mommy and has a nice gap in the two front teeth, second born sucked his thumb until I dosed it nightly as he slept with a mixture of cayenne and tabasco. He needed serious tinsel-tooth work.


  • wwwalker Aug 16, 2010

    I had a friend that sucked her thumb for a log time. She now looks like she brushed her teeth with a hand grenade....

  • missparrothead Aug 16, 2010

    I sucked me thumb until age 9, and needed braces but NOT b/c of an overbite. Too many teeth in my mouth. My daughter was born w/an overbite and subsequently is a thumb sucker and know she will need braces. Some of her perm. teeth are coming in crooked and she will highly likely need them due to that also.

    I agree...that is a bunch of baloney!

  • wraltv Aug 16, 2010

    This is a load of hooey! I sucked my thumb till I was 10 years old. My parents tried EVERYTHING to get me to stop. It was my own choice, and I never had any tooth or jaw issues ever.