Although it is normal for babies to suck their thumb, doing so long-term could negatively affect their oral and facial development.
When children suck their thumbs or fingers, they can affect their teeth and jaws in different ways. Some children create what is commonly known as a dental openbite (a vertical space between the upper and lower teeth where the teeth do not touch). Openbites are notoriously the most difficult to correct.
Other children will suck so that it appears that their top teeth are “sticking out”. Surprisingly, in cases like these, it usually is the BOTTOM JAW that we are more concerned about. This is because the thumb or finger is preventing the lower jaw from coming forward and growing properly. Pressure applied from the thumb against the chin can affect the normal growth of the jaw which negatively affects the child’s face.
Parents ask me all the time, “How long will it take before my child eliminates his or her sucking habit?”
Thumb/Finger sucking habits are quite normal in infancy and early childhood. Many children experience pleasure from these habits for the first few years of life and then terminate them of their own volition. However, it is important to understand that these habits may become excessive as time goes by and can adversely influence the formation of the bony oral structure and/or position of the teeth and can lead to a dental malocclusion. It can also cause the tongue to rest in a low, forward position causing an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD) of an incorrect resting posture of the tongue and lips and an incorrect swallowing pattern (known as “tongue thrust”) as well as developmental of a speech disorder such as a lisp. In addition, there are risks of infection from communicable diseases due to the simple fact that they can be be sucking non-sterile thumbs or fingers as well as social implications of ridicule by peers.
The length of time to eliminate a prolonged non-nutritive sucking habit has nothing to do with age but depends on 3 factors:
Common Problems Associated with Thumbsucking.
Did you know that thumb sucking is often seen in ultrasounds even before birth? According to a recent report, between 75 and 95% of infants suck their thumbs or fingers.