It’s no secret that most, if not all, children will suck their thumb at one point or another during their early years of life. It can be calming and comforting for young children and infants especially, and it may also help babies fall asleep without the use of a pacifier. This behavior can be completely harmless while your child is still young, specifically before they begin to erupt their first teeth. However, the longer this habit persists, there is a higher likelihood for repercussions that can last your child years and not be easily correctable. Here are 4 explanations of these consequences.
1. One of the most obvious consequences of thumb sucking is evident in the appearance of your child’s teeth. Thumb sucking long-term (beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth in particular) can cause your child’s upper teeth to bow outward, giving them a noticeable overbite. This means that when your child’s mouth is closed, the upper teeth and lower teeth won’t touch; the upper teeth essentially “cover” the lower ones, which can lead to the need for orthodontic intervention to correct the issue. For some children, this issue can become even more severe, where headgear is necessary to correct the bite before orthodontics can apply braces.
2. Stemming from this, your child may also develop a speech impediment from sucking on their thumb in childhood. By having their thumb in their mouth a large amount of the time, your child may inadvertently affect the development of their jaw, palate, and teeth, leading to difficulty pronouncing certain words or sounds. Because speech requires the use of different parts of the mouth to create different sounds (placing the tongue in different areas, passing air through the teeth, or altering the shape of the lips), thumb sucking can cause your child to not make these sounds properly, leading to a possible lisp or inability to pronounce sounds that require the tongue and palate, such as “D” and “T” or “S” and “Z.”
3. Children who suck their thumbs publicly, and those with speed impediments, may also face ridicule from their peers at a young age, which can lead to social anxiety and self-esteem issues later in life. While mental health isn’t directly affected by thumb sucking, the chances that your child will face some backlash from peers in school is likely if they continue the behavior into preschool and kindergarten years (or beyond). Your child may become nervous around other kids, or they may become self-conscious and feel bad about themselves because of bullying. A speech impediment, which can last a lifetime, may also carry these consequences beyond school and into their personal or professional lives. Speech impediments are nothing to be ashamed of, but some children may feel undue societal pressure.
4. This may not be a top concern of your child, but the chance of them coming into contact with germs and pathogens from their thumb sucking should be noted for parents. Kids come into contact with all sorts of germs at school, during play, and in public, so curbing this behavior before they pick up something unsavory is an ideal solution to keeping them healthy.