How Thumb Sucking as a Child Could Impact You as an Adult

Thumb sucking is a very common habit in babies and young toddlers. It’s a way to self-soothe and can help youngsters sleep better at night. Most children outgrow the habit somewhere between the ages of two and four before adult teeth start erupting in the mouth.

If it goes much past this, however, then problems can arise with the permanent teeth as they come in, especially with aggressive and/or frequent thumb sucking. Here’s how your habit of thumb sucking as a child may be affecting you as an adult:

Thumb Sucking Can Affect the Bite

Pressure from the thumb on the teeth can cause them to grow incorrectly and affect the bite. Different types of “bad bites,” or malocclusions, can result from this, including:

  • Open bite, where the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet, leaving a vertical gap in between
  • Overbite, where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth
  • Crossbite, where some of the upper teeth rest inside the lower teeth

Malocclusions are a problem that can affect function and appearance. Depending on the severity of malocclusion, it can cause difficulty or discomfort chewing, swallowing, and speaking properly. Over time, a bad bite can lead to pain and problems with the jaw joint, or temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).

As an adult, you may have to pay for your thumb sucking habit by getting braces (if you didn’t as a teen) to straighten your teeth and bring your bite back into alignment.

Thumb Sucking Can Lead to Disturbed Sleep

The bite isn’t the only thing that can be affected by prolonged thumb sucking. It can also affect the shape of the roof of the mouth as it continues to grow, making it high and narrow. This mouth shape can alter the natural resting position of the tongue, pushing it back into the mouth and obstructing the airway. At night, this obstructed airway can lead to poor quality sleep and daytime sleepiness.

As an adult, you may be more likely to have a sleep disorder because of your unaddressed childhood thumb sucking. This may be best fixed by a palate expander or some other orthodontic treatment that improves the shape of the mouth and allows the tongue to rest in its ideal position, opening the airway and allowing for restful sleep.

What If I See Thumb Sucking in My Child?

You may want to help them break this habit so it doesn’t disrupt the normal and healthy growth of adult teeth.

  • Give positive reinforcement when your child does not suck their thumb, whether verbal praise, a sticker or gold star, extra play time, or some other small treat they enjoy
  • Reduce your child’s anxiety and let them know they are safe, as children often suck their thumbs as a way to self-soothe
  • Use something physical to stop your child from engaging in the habit, such as a bandage on the thumb
  • If older, explain the reasons why thumb sucking isn’t good and should be stopped now
  • Talk to your child’s dentist about the best way to address their thumb sucking.

Talk to Your Dentist

If you do notice the consequences of your childhood thumb sucking habit, talk to your dentist about what next steps to take. There’s no reason to let a childhood habit affect your current quality of life through a poor bite or disturbed sleep. Be proactive and address it.