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From birth, children learn how to self-soothe. Infants typically use a pacifier whereas older babies and toddlers may start to suck their thumbs. And while occasional thumb sucking really won’t cause much harm, children who use it as a means of emotional regulation could be doing more harm than good.

Overbites

An overbite is a type of dental malocclusion where the top teeth are too far forward and cover the bottom teeth. While many people do have overbites, children who continue to suck their thumbs may need aggressive dental intervention. Overbites can also affect the shape of a child’s face as well as the appearance of their smile. In the most severe cases, dental headgear may be needed to correct the malocclusion and prevent thumb sucking.

Speech Delays

Some children who suck their thumbs have a speech delay or impediment. While speech delays aren’t as common, not being able to pronounce certain vowel combinations and hard consonants isn’t. They may also develop a lisp, which can lead to social issues when they begin school.

Skin Irregularities

When children continue to suck their thumb, they can also develop skin irregularities and certain skin conditions. Excess moisture that comes with thumb sucking can cause contact dermatitis or eczema to develop around a child’s mouth. Mild cases usually resolve on their own, however, in severe cases, the skin can become thin and break, leaving the areas vulnerable to infection.

In addition, continued sucking of the thumb can also cause thumb deformities. As children grow, their bones are still soft and pliable. The constant sucking action can cause their thumb to become misshapen.

Social Isolation

Thumb sucking can also negatively impact a child’s social and emotional development. Once children start school, thumb sucking can lead to bullying and social isolation. It’s important to break the habit as early as possible.

Breaking the thumb-sucking habit may not be easy, but it’s important for a child’s dental, physical and emotional growth. Teach children that there are other ways to pacify themselves at home. Parents should also speak to their pediatrician and dentist if they can’t get their children to stop sucking their thumb. There are bitter-tasting medications that can be used to deter thumb sucking as well as oral appliances.