THUMB SUCKING and its effects


A child develops many different habits throughout his life, some when he is just a few months old, to some a few years later. Among all the habits a child picks up, very few are as troubling as the THUMB SUCKING one.


Most mothers initially tend to overlook this particular habit when the child is too little and then later regret letting this habit develop in the first place. But what actually is this habit all about?

Why does it happen?

What if it continues for too long?

Is thumb sucking normal?

At what age does it become a problem if my child has not stopped the habit?

I’m concerned that thumb sucking is affecting my child’s teeth – what can be done?

These are several questions that must be plaguing every moms mind. Below are a few reasons for this Thumb Sucking habit, and how to tackle it, as shared by our Pediatric Dental Expert.

Why do children suck their thumbs?                          

Thumb or finger sucking is perfectly normal for babies. The sucking reflex is necessary for feeding but babies also have a natural instinct to suck when they are not feeding as a way of self-soothing. Babies and small children may suck their thumb or fingers or a pacifier when they are anxious, unwell, bored or as a way to get to sleep. Many children give up the habit on their own between 2 and 4 years old.


When does thumb-sucking become a problem?

Effects of continuous Thumb Sucking

If a child sucks their thumb, finger or pacifier intensely and regularly or for long periods of time it can affect their front teeth, causing them to be pushed forwards and creating a gap between the upper and lower front teeth. This can sometimes cause speech problems. In young children, unless there is some other factor causing the teeth to be crooked, the teeth will usually move back to their normal position spontaneously once the habit is stopped.

If a child continues the habit after 4 or 5 years old then it may start to affect the position and appearance of their adult teeth as they come through. The longer the habit continues after 6 years old, the more likely that orthodontic treatment (braces) will be required to correct position of the adult teeth.


What can I do to help my child stop?

Bent Teeth due to Thumb Sucking Habit

Bent Teeth due to Thumb Sucking Habit

  • Don’t nag or punish your child for sucking their thumb. Many children suck their thumbs when they are stressed or anxious, so this will only make the problem worse.
  • Talk calmly with your child to try to find out why they suck their thumb.
  • Explain that the habit can cause teeth to become crooked. Ask if they would like help to stop.
  • Reassure your child that as they are maturing and growing up they will be able to stop – discuss some things they used to do as a baby which they no longer do now.
  • If there are particular situations that trigger the habit try to offer distractions or something to keep their hands busy.
  • If your child is sucking their thumb when anxious or stressed discuss the issues and try to find other solutions for reassurance or comfort.
  • Use positive reinforcement. You could make a chart where you can give a star for each day your child goes without sucking their thumb. You could agree on a reward or treat after a number of days or weeks.
  • For some children, it is a subconscious habit and just reminding them (without nagging!) when they are doing it can help them stop.
  • For others, putting something on the thumb, such as a small bandage, can act as a reminder.
  • If you find your child is using thumb-sucking as a way of getting attention you may be better to start ignoring it instead.


What if I have tried these ideas and it has not worked?

Firstly, visit you dentist. They can assess your child’s teeth and give advice.

For those children who have real difficulty giving up the habit, a habit breaker appliance can be used.

Habit Breaker Appliance

Habit-breaker ApplianceA habit breaker appliance is fixed to the back teeth and has a blunt wire which sits behind the upper front teeth. This does not cause any pain but it makes trying to the suck the thumb uncomfortable and therefore takes away the pleasure of the habit. Even if your child still puts their thumb or finger in their mouth they will not be able to create the suction force which causes pressure on the teeth.

The appliance is usually worn for 6-12 months, with regular checks at the dentist. It has found to be very successful in breaking the habit and allowing the teeth to return to their normal position.

For any concerns about your child’s teeth, see your dentist.




How to help a child who is anxious about the dentist –Part 2

In part 1, we discussed finding a child-friendly dentist and how to help your child before an appointment.

Maybe you have a dental appointment approaching. How can both you and your dentist make things easier for your child during their visit?

How can the dentist help my child?

  • Taking things one step at a time will help to build up confidence.
  • Young children are not able to sit still or concentrate for long periods of time, so visits are best kept shorter or have breaks when needed.
  • The dentist can ask your child to raise their hand, as a “stop signal” to let them know if they are not comfortable or need a break.
  • Distraction can be used to take your child’s mind off the treatment e.g. music, cartoons or simply chatting about something else.
  • A good dentist will explain things in a way that your child can understand, as they go along. Long explanations and words can be confusing for children. Treatment options can be discussed in more detail with parents while the child plays it the waiting room, if required.
  • The dentist can first explain, and then demonstrate any tools or materials before using them. For example, showing an instrument on the back of the hand or finger nail before it is used in the mouth.
  • Although the dentist should be friendly with your child they may need to use a sterner tone of voice if a child is not listening and following instructions.
  • Good behaviour and cooperation should be rewarded with praise, stickers, a small gift or certificate.

Should parents stay in the room for dental treatment?

This depends on your child’s age and behavior. Young children (below 4 years) tend to experience separation anxiety and therefore it is usually advised that parents stay in the room.

Some children “play up” to their parents and behave better when they are not in the room. One solution for this is to allow the parent to stay in the treatment room whilst the child behaves well, but ask them to go to the waiting room if the child is not listening and following instructions.

How can I help my child during their visit?

  • In part 1, we discussed the importance of staying positive and encouraging your child.
  • If one parent is particularly anxious, it may be better for the other parent, or another close relative, to bring the child for their appointments.
  • For young children, you may need to help support your child on your lap while that dentist checks their teeth as shown in the picture.


  • If your child makes a fuss try to remain calm. Dentists who treat children regularly will have seen their share of tantrums and be prepared for this.  Allow the dentist to guide you on how to best support you child.
  • Some children will “act up” at the dentist to try to avoid treatment. If they are immediately taken out of the treatment room they are more likely to do the same thing the next time. Instead it should be explained to the child what needs to be accomplished in that visit. It is much better to achieve a less than planned, for example, placing a temporary filling, than abandon treatment altogether.
  • Show your child how proud you are of them for each new achievement

Finally – Prevention is better than cure

Although, with some help, the majority of children can learn to cope with (or maybe even enjoy!) visiting the dentist the goal should be to prevent the need for dental treatment as far as possible.

It’s a great feeling to take your child for a check-up and be told that there are no cavities!


Here are some tips for preventing dental decay and gum disease:

  • Thorough tooth brushing twice a day, morning and night.
  • Rinsing out the mouth with water after eating.
  • Eating a healthy diet and making snacks and drinks, between meals, sugar free as far as possible.
  • Dental sealants are a coating placed in the grooves and pits of the back molar teeth by a dentist which can help prevent cavities.
  • Regular check-ups not only get your child used to visiting the dentist but enable any early signs of dental disease to be spotted and prevented from progressing into a bigger problem.


Dr. Premila Naidu, a Specialist in Preventive and Paediatric Dentistry, founded the clinic SMALL BITES in 2007, out of a belief that children deserve nothing but the best in dental care. Our dental team, together with the support and help from parents, can give children healthy teeth that will last them a life time.





How to help a child who is anxious about the dentist –Part 1


  • Do you dread taking your child to the dentist?
  • Are you worried about how your child will behave?
  • Maybe you are anxious yourself and don’t know how to help you child overcome their fears?



In this article we will look at ways in which you can make visiting the dentist less stressful, and maybe even enjoyable, for you and your child.

Children are not born with a fear of going to the dentist. A small child visiting the dentist for the first time will not know what to expect, apart from what they have picked up from those close to them. Therefore, it is important to try to give your child a positive view of dental health.Depending on your child’s age, you can discuss or show them the importance of teeth and looking after them in an appropriate way. They can be encouraged to view the dentist as someone who helps them look after their teeth.
If you are anxious yourself, or have had a bad experience in that past, try not to talk about this in front of your child. Children are often listening in on our conversations with others, even while we think they are playing or doing something else. They even pick up on anxieties that we do not speak about by our expressions.


smallbitesFinding a child friendly dentist

Find a practice where the dentist and other staff are good with children. Fun décor and toys in the waiting room can help in putting your child at ease. Ask for recommendations from other parents.

Pediatric Dentists (or Pedodontists) are specialists in children’s dentistry. At Small Bites, we believe that every child deserves a good start in life with the best preventive dental care


How can I help my child before their appointment? 

  • Try to schedule the appointment at the best time for your child. Small children especially do not do so well if they are tired and hungry.
  • If you or your child are anxious, try to choose a time when the dentist is less busy to minimise waiting and so that there will be more time to discuss any issues and concerns.
  • Be positive. If your child is anxious, listen and show them you understand their concerns but express confidence that they will be okay.
  • Do not use words or scare stories that may upset your child. Even if you say “it’s not going to hurt” the main word that your child will hear is “hurt”, even though this may not have been in their mind before.
  • For young children, you could “play dentist” at home.Also try using your child’s favourite soft toy or a puppet and “check their teeth.”
  • If your child has a friend or relative who is good with the dentist it may be helpful to visit with them first.
  • Find good children’s books and videos to help your child understand about going to the dentist.
  • If your child has had a difficult time at the dentist in the past, ask them about their concerns. Discuss these with your dentist to find ways to help your child before the next appointment.

Ideally, a child’s first experience at the dentist should not be for treatment.If at all possible, try to take your child just to see the dental practice and meet the dentist, or at most have a quick check-up, before they have any problems. This will help them to feel comfortable with the environment.

If your child, already has pain or problems before they have visited the dentist, don’t worry.A good dentist will aim to alleviate the pain at a first visit but do further treatment as your child increases in confidence and cooperation.

In the second part we will discuss ways that you and your dentist can help your child during their visit and some tips for preventing dental problems.

Dr. Premila Naidu, a Specialist in Preventive and Paediatric Dentistry, founded the clinic SMALL BITES in 2007, out of a belief that children deserve nothing but the best in dental care. Our dental team, together with the support and help from parents, can give children healthy teeth that will last them a life time. 





Are Baby Teeth Important?

baby teeth

Are baby teeth Important? What if your child gets cavities in their baby teeth? Is it really necessary to get them treated if they are not having any toothache? Surely the baby teeth will fall out after a while anyway?

Although they are lost early in life, primary teeth, also called baby teeth or milk teeth, are essential in the development and placement of the permanent teeth. They also help in speech development. The permanent teeth develop close to the roots of the primary teeth.


Untreated infection in baby teeth can affect the normal development of the permanent tooth. Primary teeth also maintain the spaces where permanent teeth will erupt. If baby teeth are lost too early other teeth may tilt into or take up the vacant space, forcing permanent teeth to come in crooked.


Although baby teeth start to fall out around 6 years old, some will remain until 12 years or even later. Young children can start to develop dental caries as soon as their first teeth enter the mouth. As a parent, awareness and prevention can never start too early.


Taking your child for regular check-ups enables the dentist to assess the risk factors for your child developing dental decay and give personalized preventive advice. Also, if early signs of dental decay are seen, it may be possible to prevent it progressing. This way more complex treatment, which may be more expensive and require more cooperation from the child, can be avoided. If your child is taught to look after their baby teeth, they are much less likely to have problems once their permanent teeth come through.

Dr. Premila Naidu

Pediatric Dentist at SMALL BITES, Bangalore


Dentist Queries

What is that BLACK SPOT on my teeth Mama??

Teeth….those pearly white little gems that peep out whenever your kids smile! Which mum hasn’t waited eagerly to see them?

And yet, once they break out, there are a whole lot of things that need to be done, to keep them in the state that they were originally in.

Statistics have revealed that although largely preventable, dental caries in children has risen by almost 10% in the last decade alone (that’s huge!!). The main culprit behind this is IRREGULAR and INADEQUATEBRUSHING OF TEETH and the consumption of certain UNHEALTHY FOODS. Dr.Premila of Small Bites, tells us exactly what they are, and how simple habits inculcated in children can go a long way in giving them healthy teeth for life.


What are cavities? How do they develop?reason

Cavity is just another word for a hole in a tooth.

When you consume any food or drink containing sugar, the bacteria in the plaque on your teeth break it down, producing an acid attack which lasts for at least 20 minutes. The acid dissolves the outer surface layer of the teeth (enamel).

In the early stages of decay, the enamel can repair itself by taking in minerals from saliva. Fluoride also helps to strengthen the enamel in this process. However, if food and drink containing sugar or acid are consumed frequently between meals, more destruction than repair of enamel occurs.

Once the enamel layer crumbles, a cavity is formed, bacteria enter and the decay process spreads rapidly. After this point, the cavity will not ‘go away’ without treatment.

Which are the foods that lead to cavities in children?

inf2Any food or drink which contains sugar can contribute to cavity formation. There are a lot of ‘hidden sugars’ in processed food. If you read the ingredients, they may be labelled as sucrose, glucose, lactose, or fructose – these are all types of sugar.

Beware of foods that are also stick to the teeth or take a long time to eat, such as lollipops, as acid attack on the teeth will last for a longer time.

To prevent dental decay, the aim should be to limit how often foods containing sugar are eaten, so that the teeth get a chance to recover in between the acid attacks.

Can I let my children have chocolate and sticky sweets?

It is not realistic to ban your child from eating sweets altogether. Instead, limit consumption of sweets and candy to maximum of once a day, preferably at the end of a meal. Those treats that dissolve and clear from the mouth quickly, (for example, a chocolate bar), are better than hard candies, lollipops or sticky caramels. Sweets should be eaten in one go, rather than continually snacking on them.

Should I let my child have fizzy drinks?

fizzyFrequent consumption of fizzy drinks is one of the major causes of tooth decay. Not only do most contain a lot of sugar, the acid (even in sugar-free diet drinks) softens tooth enamel, contributing to cavity formation. Having fizzy drinks occasionally at parties should not be a problem, but they should not be a regular drink for your child.


What are the best snacks to give my child?

Children do get hungry and need to snack. There are many options for healthy snacks, sugar free snacks. Here are some ideas:veg

  • Fresh fruit, raw vegetables and nuts.
  • Wholegrain chapathi or bread with butter, vegetables or paneer.
  • Cheese is a great snack because it is high in calcium, but has no added sugar.
  • Idli, dosa or vada.
  • Mix plain curd with fruit, rather than eating processed fruit yoghurts which are high in sugar.
  • Popcorn (without sugar or toffee).

What are the best drinks for my child’s teeth?

For drinks in between meals, go for water or milk without added sugar – these are the safest drinks. Milk is an important source of calcium and phosphorous, which help build healthy teeth and bones.

Will milk at bedtime damage my child’s teeth?

bestimeIf babies or toddlers fall asleep with a bottle, or whilst nursing, the milk will not be washed off and will remain on their teeth during sleep.The natural sugars in breast milk or formula are transformed by bacteria into cavity-causing acid. After drinking milk, teeth should be brushed before sleeping.


If milk teeth have caries, is it likely that permanent teeth would be affected too?

If decay in milk (baby) teeth is left untreated, infection can spread to developing adult teeth under the roots of baby teeth, causing them to be malformed or stained. Even when cavities in baby teeth are filled, it is important the diet and brushing habits improve to reduce the risk of decay when the adult teeth come through.


Dr.Premila Naidu, a Specialist in Preventive and Paediatric Dentistry, founded the clinic SMALL BITES in 2007, out of a belief that children deserve nothing but the best in dental care. Our dental team, together with the support and help from parents, can give children healthy teeth that will last them a life time.