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Thumb Sucking and Grinding Explained

Two very common behaviors in children are sucking habits and tooth grinding. While these can cause larger issues down the road, the vast majority of these cases are harmless and resolve on their own.

Finger and Thumb Sucking

Sucking on fingers and thumbs is a very common behavior seen in babies, even while they are still in the womb. Babies also interact with the world around them by biting or sucking; in many cases, this behavior is harmless, and the child grows out of the habit on their own. However, there are situations in which sucking on fingers, thumbs, or pacifiers can affect the development of healthy teeth, and this is when it is time to intervene.

Typically, a child will suck on their fingers, thumbs, and pacifiers to feel secure. The American Academy of Dental Pediatrics (AADP) explains that before 3 years of age, this is generally not something to worry about. Sucking habits that persist past a child's third birthday, however, can result in abnormal bite alignment or "tipped" teeth. This can occur whether the child has been sucking on fingers and thumbs or pacifiers. To prevent this, the AADP recommends simple, diligent reminders to break the habit, resulting in success for most children. If this is not enough to stop the behavior, a pediatric dentist can assist with other solutions including oral deterrents.

Tooth Grinding

There are many reasons a child may grind their teeth during sleep. This phenomenon, called bruxism, can affect children at any age, even as early as 1 or 2 years old. This behavior is very common, and most children stop grinding after age 10. Parents usually first notice the sound of their child grinding their teeth during sleep. While this sound may initially seem alarming, in most cases, the behavior is harmless. There are cases in which bruxism does require intervention, however. To keep an eye on the behavior, the child's pediatric dentist should be informed so that they can monitor for changes like dental wear, tooth chipping, or jaw problems. Possible treatments include a mouth guard to be worn at night.

There is no single cause for bruxism, and there are many theories as to why children begin grinding. Some theories include stress, hormones, personality type, or heredity. For parents, the best course of action is to inform the child's pediatric dentist of the behavior, and learn secondary symptoms that may arise including headaches or morning jaw pain.

Both sucking habits and tooth grinding can cause parents to become concerned, however in the majority of cases, these behaviors are transient and go away by themselves. By fostering a positive and stress-free environment, children are very likely to grow out of habits such as sucking and grinding. In the event of dental issues arising from chronic behaviors such as these, a pediatric dentist can review available treatment options to help bring a child back on track to proper, healthy dental development.