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Hidden in plain bite: Are dummies and thumb sucking giving your child dental problems?

Is my child’s dummy causing dental problems? And can thumb sucking lead to ‘buck teeth’? If you’re a parent, chances are these thoughts have crossed your mind at some point. 

This is because sucking – whether on thumbs, fingers or dummies – is an extremely common habit for kids. In fact, babies can even be spotted sucking their thumb while still in the womb!

While it’s a very natural behaviour, unfortunately, it can lead to issues with how your child’s bite forms and how their teeth grow. So, is banning sucking the solution? Let’s break the answer into bite-sized pieces. 

When thumb sucking and dummies get the thumbs up

Sucking on a dummy or a thumb is a natural, self-soothing behaviour in infants and young children. And a dummy is often a wonderful tool in a parent’s tool kit when it comes to helping a restless child settle and get some z’s.

Plus, there’s strong evidence showing that sucking a dummy can reduce the risk of sudden infant death.

A happy, healthy, safe baby? Yes please! That gets a big thumbs up in our books.

The main takeaway? If your child is under age three and sucking their thumb or a dummy helps them stay happy and calm: sit back and enjoy any additional rare moments of dummy-related peace you’re getting. 

When good health turns into bad bites

The bad news? That peace doesn’t last forever. At least, not without some dental risks.

Dummy use beyond the age of three is associated with what we call in dental terms an ‘anterior open bite’. The result is that the upper and lower front teeth aren’t touching when the child bites together. And it can cause issues because it means the child’s teeth are misaligned when they close their jaws.

Dummy, thumb or fingersucking that has continued for many years may also cause an ‘overbite’, which you may have heard described as the less-than-kind schoolyard name of ‘buck teeth’.

Blinded by the bite: Is sucking the only cause of overbites and open bites?

While thumbs and dummies can often be the culprit when it comes to misaligned teeth, they certainly aren’t the only behaviour or reason.

In older kids, ‘tongue thrusting’ (pushing your tongue against your teeth when swallowing or speaking) can result in an open bite. This happens when the tongue is constantly pushed against teeth, creating a gap between the front top and bottom teeth.

And sometimes, it’s just genetics. Jaw shape and teeth alignment are passed down from parents, so if you or your child’s other parent have had issues with an open bite or overbite – your child’s overbite may be all in their genes.

Dumping dummies and saying see ya later to sucking

If long-standing dummy and sucking habits continue into primary school, it can lead to poorly aligned adult front teeth. And the longer the habit lasts, the higher the chance orthodontic treatment will be needed down the track.

So, it’s best to try and kick the dummy habit around the age of three.

5 Tips for stopping dummy and thumb sucking

Many of us adults have had to break unwanted habits ourselves, and so we know that going cold turkey is incredibly hard.

Breaking a sucking habit is just like breaking any other habit. Which means a gradual approach is often your best bet for success. With dummies, fingers and thumbs, this involves preparing your child for the change before you start the process.

  1. Talk to your child about why they need to stop their habit. Plant the seed and water it often with reinforcement.
  2. Begin by limiting the dummy or thumb sucking during the day and only allowing the habit for night-time sleeping.
  3. Help your child get used to life without their habit by limiting the dummy or thumb sucking for car rides and the cot.
  4. For dummies, once your child can cope for longer periods without it, set a time and date when your child will say goodbye to their dummy.
  5. Mark this special occasion with a celebration or reward!

Lastly, it’s best to pick your timing wisely – avoid starting the process during a period of big change (such as moving house), when your child will be craving a little extra comfort.

It may not always be smooth sailing and you will meet resistance but try not to turn your ship back!

Top tip for thumb and finger suckers

Thumbs or other fingers may prove more difficult than dummies when it comes to dumping the habit. Unlike a dummy, they can’t be physically taken away!

However, it’s ideal to not let these habits persist beyond the age of 6-7 years.

The good news? There are habit breaking devices, such as a thumbguards and orthodontic appliances, that can help your child if the gradual approach isn’t working.

Book an appointment with us if you’d like some additional help and support through this process.

Like front teeth, parents don’t thrive with constant pressure – so go easy on yourself!

There are no two ways about it: weaning a child off a dummy or thumb sucking can be difficult. And it can be especially challenging if your child is five or older. So don’t put pressure or judgement on yourself if your child still has one.

If you and your child are finding the process a struggle, remember there are always paediatric dentists to help make the process smoother.

If your child is over five and still sucking their thumb, it’s a good time to book an appointment with us so we can give them a check-up and offer some friendly advice and support. Call us on (02) 8814 7945 or email us at reception@nwpd.com.au