Around 70-90% of children engage in thumb sucking.

Some children may give up the habit on their own. Others require help in getting rid of the behavior.

If action isn’t taken, this behavior may continue into a child’s teen and adult years.

There are several reasons why sucking on your thumb shouldn’t continue as an adult. There are health risks associated with thumb sucking in adults that need to be taken into consideration before it becomes a long-term habit.

Not sure about the harms of thumb-sucking? Read on to learn about five different ways this habit may negatively impact your overall health.

Causes of Thumb Sucking in Children

Children may begin thumb sucking from infancy as a behavior to calm themselves or distract themselves. It provides comfort when they feel scared, alone, angry, or bored. Some also speculate children who are not breastfed are more prone to thumb-sucking.

Unfortunately, as children age, this “cute habit” can turn into a bad habit and cause dramatic health complications. If the habit persists past the age of four, it is more likely to continue and more likely to cause long-term problems.

The sooner you can intervene with a child’s thumb-sucking habit, the better. If a child does not stop thumb sucking after age four it can continue into adulthood.

Psychology of Thumb Sucking in Adults

Some children continue thumb sucking into adulthood if the problem is never addressed. Other adults start thumb sucking later in life, even if they didn’t as a kid. There is evidence that as many as one in ten adults sucks their thumb.

The research behind adult thumb-sucking is not completely advanced, however, some known cases of thumb sucking in adulthood include:

  • Failure to intervene and stop the habit in childhood
  • Reduces anxiety or stress
  • Childhood trauma
  • Involuntary reflex to boredom
  • Age regression is a psychological behavior in which adults who age start acting more like children
  • Coping mechanism

Doctors suspect thumb-sucking in adulthood to be similar to a tick. Stress, anger, boredom, or trauma triggers a cue and the response by the adult is to thumb suck.

Is Thumb Sucking Bad?

This seemingly innocent habit has negative repercussions. Excessive and prolonged thumb sucking can lead to certain health complications that we’ll discuss below.

1. Damage Tooth Appearance

The force of your thumb on your upper palate pushes it forward over time. This changes the entire skeletal structure of your face and will cause your teeth and mouth to protrude.

As the habit of thumb-sucking continues, the effects become more dramatic and your teeth can be pushed way out front. This will realign everything from your lower jaw to your cheekbones and entirely change the facial structure you were born with.

2. Create An Overbite

When your teet get pushed forward by the force of your thumb on your upper teeth, this creates an overbite. With an overbite you are more prone to dental problems.

Thumb sucking damages the health of your teeth and sometimes requires years of dental work to reverse the misalignment. Learn how to correct an overbite.

3. Digestive Distress

The alignment of your teeth effects the way you chew and ultimately the extent to which food is properly digested or not. Teeth that are well aligned without an over or underbite are able to break down food at the onset of digestion, which begins in the mouth.

Your teeth powerfully break down food into tiny pieces that make it easier for your entire gastrointestinal system to extract nutrients and excrete waste. When the food is not properly chewed from the onset, digestive problems like gas bloating, malnutrition, indigestion, and heartburn may occur.

4. Speech Impediment

Thumb sucking changes the alignment of your teeth, jaw, and palate. In turn this may cause lisping or strange pronunciation of consonants.

Speech impediments may make it more difficult to communicate.

5. Thumb Deformity

Vigorous constant thumb sucking causes acute stress to the thumb. It can actually change the shape of your thumb!

Your thumb may become thinner and more elongated. Thumb sucking also damages the thumb’s skin. It can make it crack, bleed, callous and get infected.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Adults

Some adults can drop the thumb sucking habit cold turkey. For most, this proves difficult.

The first step to stopping thumb sucking in adults is to identify the cause. Then you work on the actual behavior.

If thumb sucking is stress-related you can try different stress relieving activity like exercise or prayer. You can also try to replace the habit of thumb sucking related to stress with squeezing a stress ball. This is a type of replacement therapy-replacing the bad habit with a less severe or good one.

The other option is to make the habit hard or unpleasant to do. This can include wrapping your thumb in bandages to make thumb sucking unpleasant, or getting a nice manicure that would get ruined with thumb sucking. And you don’t want to be sucking on toxic nail polish either, which would help prevent the behavior.

If the thumb sucking is severe it is recommended to work with a psychiatrist that can help you break the habit via cognitive behavioral therapy. This will help you change the cues that lead you to thumb suck.

It suggested to do the following when trying to stop thumb sucking:

  • Set small attainable goals (i.e. no thumb sucking at work, then no thumb sucking during the day etc.) build up to your overall goal
  • Reward yourself for achieving milestones
  • Address the root cause of the problem, the thumb sucking is the action
  • Ask for support from professionals or friends and family

It’s never too late to stop thumb sucking in adults! Seek help today!

The Negative Health Effects of Thumb Sucking in Adults

Thumb sucking in adults can have serious reprecussions. It can damage your oral alignment which will effect your appearance, self-esteem, breathing, speech, and digestion. Act fast to stop the causes of thumb sucking, and the habit will cease.

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