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Thumb Sucking: Harmless Habit or Potential Problem?

For many parents, the image of a baby constantly being swallowed by a pacifier – or their own thumb – is one of the fondest memories of childhood. However, if this habit lasts too long, it can cause problems with the child's bite.

Would you like to know what the potential difficulties are, when to worry about the behavior, and what to do? You can take online help if you want to stop thumb sucking in children.

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Thumb sucking is a natural and soothing behavior found in humans (and some other primates) associated with breastfeeding. It usually goes away on its own as permanent teeth grow. But a habit is hard to break – and if it persists, the result can be a problem known as an "open bite."

In a normal bite, the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth. If the thumb (or other object) is constantly between the upper and lower teeth, the applied pressure can prevent the teeth from fully erupting (out of the gums in the mouth) and the shape and development of the upper and lower teeth.

The same problem can be caused by an extended "child swallowing pattern" in which the tongue is pushed forward, which, like thumb sucking, usually begins to stop at the age of four.

This was later replaced by the adult swallow pattern, which involves holding the tongue behind the teeth against the roof of the mouth. Researchers believe that most open bites are the result of an inability to switch from swallowing a baby in an adult.