Is it normal for my three-year-old to still suck his thumb? Answers from the Nipomo dentist

-“Parents don’t need to worry when their toddler is still thumb-sucking,” says Dr, Douglas Ng from  Nipomo Family Dentistry. Most toddlers give up the habit around 4 years old, but it’s normal for some to continue past their fifth year.

The Nipomo dentist recently released a report to help parents feel more comfortable about their infants and toddlers thumb-sucking. “Babies nurse for nutrition, sucking is natural for infants. As the child grows, the habit becomes associated with the comfort that comes from nursing,” says Ng. “Thumb-sucking can start causing problems if it continues when the child starts school or when the permanent teeth start coming in.”

Even children who abandoned the habit on their own might temporarily resume it if they become stressed. Moving to a new home, a new baby in the family, or even starting school can cause a child to feel unsettled and insecure. When a child resumes thumb-sucking due to most normal life changes, the habit usually stops as soon as the child feels comfortable with the new routine. Prolonged thumb-sucking in children older than 5 years, might be an indication of other issues. “A visit to the family dentist to eliminate any issues with oral health. The family pediatrician can also make sure there are no health issues,” says the Nipomo dentist.

Continuing to thumb-suck can cause problems with tooth alignment, and the bite and perhaps cause lisping. Pacifiers, although an easier habit to break, can also cause alignment problems. Other effects of long-term thumb-sucking include:

  • Contributing to an overbite or an underbite.
  • Changing the position of teeth.
  • Creating protruding teeth that are more likely to chip or break.
  • Altering the shape of the roof of the mouth or jaw.
  • Contributing to speech and chewing problems.
  • Increased exposure to germs.

Getting help

The Nipomo dentist reports that distracting the child is the best way to break the habit in most cases.

  • Play a game, do an art project together, or read together.
  • Comforting the child followed by a distracting activity.
  • Discuss the issue with older children, explaining the long-term effects.
  • Involve older children in choosing methods to break the habit.
  • Praise when the child is not sucking.
  • Make an appointment with the dentist or pediatrician for advice.

Dr. Douglas Ng has been providing families with quality, state-of-the-art dental care since 2008. He is a California native who graduated with honors as a Regents Scholar from the University of California, Riverside. He then earned his DDS from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry and has since dedicated his career to providing the best care that dentistry has to offer.

Dr. Ng fulfills his passion for dental education by being a member of the SLO Chapter of the Spear Study Club and serves as the Continuing Education Chair for the Central Coast Dental Society.

Nipomo Family Dentistry
195 N Thompson Ave Suite #3
Nipomo, CA 93444
(805) 929-1888