Dental Health Articles

I have a thumb sucker

Most babies will suck on handy objects as nearly every nearby object is tried in the mouth. Some do this, in their very early years, for comfort and many parents give their infants dummies. Dummies are frequently unhygienic and may harm the child’s teeth, particularly if sweeteners are added to them.

The habit of exploring new things with the mouth usually stops at an early age however finger and thumb sucking are likely to continue for a longer period.

If a child is thumb sucking beyond the age of six there is a cause for concern. The eruption of the permanent teeth is affected often with a resulting malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth. Usually the upper front teeth are pushed out and the lower front teeth depressed back into the mouth and crowded. Speech and swallowing problems may develop.

Many of these problems are overcome once the problem ceases. The teeth move back into the correct positions naturally in many cases when the cause of the unusual movement is removed. But some malocclusions may require orthodontic treatment to rectify.

Frequently the immediately family has trouble helping the child overcome the habit. The child may be using the habit to seek attention and conflict.

Most children do not suck their thumb when at school or when playing with friends. The habit is usually restricted to home, often before going to sleep or whilst watching television.

If you feel your child genuinely wishes to stop the habit you can follow the pattern many dentists adopt. First discuss the problem with the child in a calm and non-hostile way.

Point out the potential dangers of long-term thumb sucking. Most children wish to stop and need only a little encouragement and support.

Draw up a large chart for two weeks making a separate square for each day. Have the child mark in the frequency of thumb sucking and perhaps colour and decorate the square appropriately.

It may help when the habit reduces to have the child place a Band-Aid on the thumb of finger as a gentle reminder. Only do this if the child agrees. A suitable reward should be made when the habit stops and lots of praise and recognition.

If you are unable to succeed do not feel disappointed. You may need to enlist outside help.

Dental specialists may need to fit special corrective plates or bands to discourage the habit. However, most thumb suckers can be discouraged by kindness and sympathy.


It has long bothered dentists when a parent arrives with a child with a sore tooth and says “it’s only a baby tooth so can you take it out”.

Deciduous, or baby teeth, serve several important functions:

  • They are necessary to reserve space for the developing second teeth which are underneath.
  • They are also needed for a child to develop correct speech.
  • And, of course, they are of great assistance in eating and for providing for adequate digestion of food.

The function of reserving space for the follow on of the permanent teeth is most important and much of the need for orthodontics might be avoided if the deciduous teeth were allowed to be naturally lost and not too early.

When a baby tooth is lost naturally it usually appears as if the root has been eaten away.

This is what happens in the normal case, the root of the deciduous tooth resorbs, or dissolves away, as the second tooth manoeuvres into place beneath. The deciduous tooth loosens as its foundation disappears.

Often, the moment the deciduous tooth is lost the second tooth is there just below the surface ready to take its correct position in the mouth.

The premature loss of a deciduous tooth may cause the teeth either side of that lost tooth to drift into the space provided for the developing permanent tooth underneath.

The result can be crooked teeth or even teeth erupting in strange places such as from the side of the gum or into the roof of the mouth.

Should the deciduous tooth have been lost in the front of the mouth further complications of speech development difficulty may be experienced.

The early loss of the back deciduous teeth can have significant consequences. Although not readily noticeable, this loss can lead to the slow forward movement of the six-year old molars leading to the crowding of the back permanent teeth.

The result is usually prolonged orthodontic treatment invariably in the early teenage years.


Winter brings increased participation in vigorous sporting activities such as football and hockey, and with them a rise in injuries ranging from simple bruises to broken limbs and all in between.

One injury which is often overlooked involves teeth which may be broken or dislodged or even knocked out by a sharp blow.

These injuries are painful and distressing, for both patient and parent, and it is essential that quick action is taken. Damaged teeth can usually be restored provided prompt action is undertaken.

If a tooth has been broken, the person and the fragment should be taken immediately to a dentist. The fragment can sometimes be reattached by bonding it to the remaining tooth structure.

If a tooth has been knocked out, then long term survival of that tooth is possible if these steps are taken:

  • If possible, replace the tooth immediately into the socket from which it came. If the tooth is dirty have the patient quickly lick it clean or if this is not possible wash it quickly in cold water.
  • If this is not possible quickly place it in milk or wrap it in plastic food wrap. DO NOT STORE IT IN WATER as this will damage the delicate tissue on the root surface.
  • These instructions apply only to second teeth and not to baby teeth, which should never be reimplanted.

Prevention is obviously the preferred option and we recommend that all participants in contact sports wear a mouthguard.

A professionally made and fitted mouthguard dramatically reduces the chance of injury.

Be sensible – safeguard your teeth and your children’s teeth with a mouthguard.