Most children grow out of the habit of sucking thumbs and fingers from 2-4 years of age.

You can usually reverse the effects of thumb-sucking up to 5-6 years, because children still have their baby teeth. If children are still sucking after this age, dental problems can come up.

Vigorous finger-sucking (that’s when you hear a popping sound when a child takes thumb or fingers out of his mouth) and sucking that goes on over many years can affect the growth of a child’s jaws and the way his teeth line up. If you’re concerned about your child’s sucking habits, talk to your dentist.

Children are more likely to suck their thumbs or fingers when they’re tired, stressed or hungry.


Teeth-grinding in school-age children is pretty common and doesn’t usually need treatment.

Some children clench their jaws quite firmly, and others grind their teeth so hard that it makes a noise. Some children grind their teeth during sleep. Often, they don’t wake up when they do it – but other people do!

Most of the time, teeth-grinding doesn’t last and doesn’t cause damage to your child’s teeth. But if it does keep going, you might want to talk to a dentist. It could lead to your child experiencing headaches, tooth or jaw pain, or wearing down her teeth. Devices to protect teeth from grinding at night can help. You can get them from dentists.

Injuries to teeth

Injuries to your child’s face and teeth can happen when he’s running, climbing, riding scooters and bikes and so on. It’s a good idea to see a doctor or dentist if your child damages his teeth or face, especially if a tooth turns black or purple.

If your child knocks out a baby tooth, don’t try and put it back in. This can cause problems later on when the adult tooth starts to come through.

Losing a baby tooth before it’s ready to come out usually isn’t a serious dental problem, but it’s important that you take your child to the dentist immediately for a check-up. Seeing the dentist and knowing that an adult tooth will eventually fill the space, and that pain or tenderness in the area will soon go, might help you and your child to feel better.

Losing an adult tooth is a bit more serious, but there are a few things you and your child can do that might stop her from losing her tooth permanently:

  • Find the tooth.
  • Hold the tooth by the top (‘crown’), not the roots.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk or saline (salt and water) solution for a few seconds. Don’t rinse the tooth with water.
  • Don’t let the tooth dry out.
  • Put the tooth back in its socket immediately.
  • Hold the tooth in place with aluminium foil. If you don’t have any aluminium foil handy, your child can bite down gently on a handkerchief.
  • See your dentist immediately – time is critical, so you should take your child to the dentist as soon as possible.

If for some reason you can’t replace the tooth in its socket – for example, your child is unconscious – put the tooth in milk or saline solution or wrap it in plastic cling film. See your dentist immediately.

If your child chips or fractures a tooth, keep the piece of tooth and store it in milk. See your dentist immediately.

Mouth guards

Mouth guards can help protect children’s teeth from knocks and falls. If your child plays sport, it’s good to try to get him used to wearing a mouth guard from an early age.

There are three types of mouth guards:

  • ready-made
  • ‘boil and bite’, which you mould around your child’s teeth and jawbone
  • customised, which are made by a dental professional. These provide the best protection because they’re specially fitted to your child’s teeth and jaws.

Mouth guards should:

  • be thick enough (4 mm) to provide protection against impact
  • fit snugly and be comfortable
  • be odourless and tasteless
  • allow normal breathing and swallowing
  • allow normal speech.

To help your child’s mouth guard stay clean and in good shape, you can make sure your child:

  • rinses it before each use, and brushes it with a non-abrasive toothpaste afterwards
  • cleans it every now and then in soapy water, making sure to rinse it thoroughly
  • carries it in a container that has vents
  • doesn’t leave it in the sun or in hot water.

Take the mouth guard along to your child’s dental visits to make sure it still fits correctly. Your child might need a new mouth guard when changes happen in her mouth, such as adult teeth coming through.

Your child should wear the mouth guard during training sessions and match play if there’s a risk of knocks or falls.