Thumb Sucking

Sucking on thumbs, fingers, and pacifiers is a natural reflex for children and helps them feel more comfortable and secure growing up. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so don’t worry if your child begins to suck their thumb. However, it’s important to pay attention to the habit as your child develops as it could potentially impact their dental health.

WHAT IS NORMAL THUMB-SUCKING BEHAVIOR?

Babies are both with natural rooting and sucking reflexes, and many children begin sucking their thumbs or fingers from a very young age or even inside the womb. This habit helps sooth the infant and provide them with a sense of security. Thumb sucking helps relax your baby, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

Many children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four as they simply grow out of it. Some children continue the habit beyond preschool, but studies have shown that the older your child gets, the lower their chances are of continuing to suck their thumbs. If your child is still sucking their thumb after permanent teeth have erupted, it may be time to help your child break the habit.

WHAT SIGNS SHOULD I WATCH FOR?

Thumb sucking that continues after permanent teeth have come in could affect how the roof of the mouth and the teeth line up within the mouth. Specifically, if your child sucks their thumb vigorously, putting pressure on the mouth and teeth, the habit may be damaging to their oral health. Passive thumb sucking, when the thumb is just gently resting inside the mouth, is less likely to cause damage. Continued thumb sucking without intervention can affect teeth and face shape and may lead to necessary orthodontic treatment in the future.

If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking affecting their oral health, please contact us to set up an appointment to assess the situation.

hOW CAN I ENCOURAGE MY CHILD TO STOP THUMB SUCKING?

Follow these suggestions if you need help ending your child’s thumb sucking:

  1. Use positive reinforcement and be supportive. Praise or reward your child for not sucking their thumb instead of punishing them when they do.
  2. Identify triggers. If you notice your child sucking in response to stress or anxiety, work on identifying and removing the issue rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
  3. Create diversions. If your child tends to suck during certain times (long car rides, while watching television), distract them.
  4. Cover the thumb. Place a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a glove over the hand at night to help them remember to avoid sucking.
  5. Use a progress chart. Let your child put a sticker up every day that they don’t suck their thumb. If they make it through a week without sucking, they can select a prize. Once the whole month is full, reward your child with a “grand prize” (a new toy or video game) and the habit should be finished.
  6. Explain potential issues. Clearly tell your child what could happen to the teeth if they keep thumb sucking.

Remember that your child needs support, patience, and understanding while they learn to break their thumb sucking habit.

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