Is Thumb Sucking Bad?

Often, when an adult sees a toddler with the thumb in their mouth, they ask them to stop that. It is because of the belief that one should curb the practice before it becomes a habit.

However, babies see no problem with sucking their thumbs as it is a form of self-soothing and relaxation. It is a good thing as the child discovers natural ways to cope with the environment in their unique ways.

Thumb-sucking is not in its entirety a bad practice as it has its benefits to the child that can extend to the parents as well. Sucking the thumb becomes a bad practice when the negative effects begin to overshadow the advantages.

Why is thumb-sucking bad?

Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own at the age of two or three years as the desire to suck diminishes and they find alternative ways to keep them comfortable.

The real concern should set in when the sucking continues through the toddler stage, to pre-school years and the school-going age, especially when the adult teeth begin to grow.

The parents should now seek tips to help the child get rid of the habit. If the case is severe, the parents can seek the help of a dentist in case the child will need orthodontics. Pressure from sucking can cause the teeth to protrude, affecting the child’s bite or even teeth alignment.

Encouragement and distraction are the primary tips to help you solve the issue and halt the practice. Also, after the age of two or three, you have a better chance of persuading the child to stop the practice as you highlight to them its harms.

Some parents prefer the frequent use of pacifiers to distract the child from the mouth while still an infant. Pacifiers are temporary and are easy to remove from the child’s vicinity to train the child to do without it, unlike the thumb, which is permanent on the hand.

However, it might not always be the solution as most children will have developed their preferences earlier on in their life.

12 Negative effects of thumb-sucking

Children adapt to thumb sucking to calm themselves from infancy, even though most parents don’t sit well with the habit.

Most parents prefer using pacifiers or other child-sucking accessories to give them the same calming and soothing effect.

As the children grow older, the behaviour may develop into a habit and have long-term negative consequences. The practice should not extend after the age of four to prevent the child from experiencing the downsides of thumb-sucking.

The following are the effects of intense and prolonged thumb-sucking.

  1. Dental Malocclusion

The most detrimental effects are the various types of dental malocclusion, a broad term referring to the misalignment of teeth that remain visible even with the mouth shut. An overbite and an open bite are the most popular types of malocclusion caused by thumb sucking.

  • An overbite

Overbite malocclusion occurs when the lower teeth overlap the upper. In this case, the misalignment happens on the upper teeth, which are then directed outward. When you close your mouth, the upper teeth cover the bottom instead of both sets touching normally.

An overbite may affect the smile and shape of the face. Extreme overbites may necessitate orthodontic treatment to correct the problem, with tools such as orthodontic headgear or any other appliance that can place the overlapping teeth in their proper position.

  • An open bite

Open bite malocclusion happens with the outward positioning of both the bottom and top front teeth. When one closes their mouth, the top and bottom front teeth still do not touch as they should.

An open bite may necessitate future orthodontic treatment or may worsen other dental misalignment requiring orthodontic treatment.

2. Skin Issues

Prolonged thumb-sucking may lead to painful or serious skin problems on the affected thumb. Exposure of the skin to the mouth’s moisture for a long time makes the thumb susceptible to injuries.

Thumb-sucking may lead to bleeding or cracking of the skin, leaving the skin open to infection. Moreover, saliva and pressure of sucking thumb can distort the nail leading to an ingrowth. The thumb skin may also become hardened.

If thumb-sucking has resulted in severe skin problems in your child, you need to encourage them to stop the behavior. You can bandage the thumb or place a finger glove to prevent further damage.

Avoid aversion tactics such as dipping one’s finger in bitter substances as they only cause frustration and no long-term effect.

3. Impediment to Speech

Thumb-sucking affects the development of the teeth, jaw and the mouth’s roof; this can impact the speech and feeding of your child. Speech problems like lisping and other speech problems like difficulty in pronunciation of sounds like D and T.

This speech impediment is a result of the alignment of your child’s teeth with their tongue. Therefore, even speech therapy may be ineffective in correcting the problem until the child seeks proper dental treatment.

Speech impediment may affect your child psychologically as such kids tend to have feelings of anger, frustration and will eventually isolate themselves.

4. Social Concerns

Even before any visible threat occurs on the thumb-sucking child, the habit may have them experience social problems. Children who suck their thumbs are normally a target of mockery by their peers, affecting their social life.

Also, children with extreme malocclusion tend to shy away from social set-ups as their peers tend to make fun of their dental arrangement, or they may feel odd as they notice they look different from the rest.

To protect your child from such problems, you should assist them in breaking the habit earlier in their developmental stage of life.

5. Speech Problems

It is crucial to note that helping your child stop the thumb-sucking habit does not have any psychological or developmental issues though allowing the behavior to continue effects on both. Positive reinforcement is a better way to handle the situation than punishing the child.

Sometimes your child may need professional help; therefore, you can consult a pediatrician or a dentist.

The major problem with thumb-sucking begins when the child’s permanent teeth begin to grow. At this point, the child risks the possibility of speech problems resulting from the persistence of the habit.

6. Language

The first step of a child learning to communicate is to learn how to use the language of communication as their tool. Children learn to communicate at a very early stage of their life, playing with sounds and phrases.

As parents, they reinforce this communication to make it better by interacting with the child. The lips, teeth, tongue and oral cavity are all essential in the practice of vocals.

Language is all about the interaction between persons and is a social component of communication. When a baby has a pacifier in their mouth, they cannot engage in independent or interactive vocal play, same case with the thumb.

If the child has their mouth occupied most of the time, it becomes difficult to engage the child and have them learn the language.

7. Speech

With the development of language comes speech. Speech involves the proper use and movements of the lips, tongue and adequate airflow to the oral cavity to produce sound.

Thumb-sucking may affect the oral structure, tooth and tongue placement which in turn affects air circulation. As a result, the child may suffer from a condition known as lisp, which is a tone distortion. The child may have trouble pronouncing sounds such as D, L, Z, T, S, DZ and N.

Without proper treatment, this speech defect may extend to adulthood, thus causing social problems.

8. Teeth Problem

As we’ve seen, the dental structure is vital for language and speech development. Nonetheless, that’s not all the reasons why the child’s oral structure is crucial. The dental structure also influences;

  • How one looks.
  • How one eats.
  • The general long-term dental and overall health

9. Appearance 

One’s appearance is extremely important in boosting their self-esteem. What better way to have your esteem high than a perfect set of dental orientations?

Thumb-sucking leads to malocclusion, which alters the appearance of one’s face and even affects their smile. In turn, the child develops low self-esteem and will isolate themselves from others as they feel different or may end up as mockery.

10. Feeding 

Teeth misalignment may prove it difficult for the child to chew properly. If there is no proper coordination between the lower and upper teeth caused by an overbite or an open bite, it will also affect how the child eats.

11. Dental and overall health 

It is very much easier to clean and maintain the regular type of teeth than misaligned teeth. Furthermore, thumb-sucking damages the jaw and teeth; hence the child will require orthodontic treatment. The child will also require regular dental care to have a normal set of teeth.

Also, thumb-sucking exposes the child to many bacteria and pathogens, which they ingest during this process. Such bacteria may be harmful to the child, especially at tender ages.

It is best to immediately consult the child’s dentist for treatment to fix the issue before it persists in all these situations.

12. Finger Problems

Thumb-sucking doesn’t only affect the mouth but also the finger in question. Long-term exposure of the finger to saliva hardens the child’s finger.

This leads to an open wound through a crack. The crack may cause regular bleeding of the finger that may be painful and an entry point to germs and viruses, leading to infections.

In addition, the moisture in saliva and sucking pressure may distort the nail hence causing an ingrowth. The affected finger ends up looking not as nice as the rest. An ugly finger in one’s hand can be a problem to the child as they grow up, lowering their esteem.

When it gets to the point where thumb-sucking affects the child’s finger, it is best to try and stop the habit before the problem persists.

Is Thumb-sucking Helpful?

A child may suck their thumbs for many reasons. One, it is a natural reflex. Most infants start sucking their thumb while still in their mother’s womb. The habit, therefore, extends after birth, and the child works on instinct.

Thumb sucking further calms the child and keeps her feeling relaxed as a way of self-soothing. So for infants, the practice is not bad as they tend to benefit from it. It is therefore not advisable to stop the child from the practice.

As a parent, thumb-sucking in an infant should not raise the alarm as the child will most definitely outgrow it. Also, at this stage, the child is very young, and you cannot reason with them as they do not understand why you would want to deter them from what makes them happy.


Prevention is better than cure. Thumb-sucking is not necessarily a bad habit but should stop at a certain age. If not, as a parent, take the necessary steps to curb the behaviour before the practice’s negative effects reflect on the child.

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