Parents typically have long lists of concerns when it comes to the health and wellness of their children. They want their kids to grow up healthy without developing any habits that would jeopardize their development. Thumb sucking is one of the things caregivers worry about as their babies grow and become toddlers. Parents wonder if the habit will continue through childhood, or if they should seek help to stop it. The good news is that the habit will often stop well before your child starts preschool. We take a look deeper into thumb sucking and how it can affect your child’s mouth.

Is thumb sucking normal behavior?

Thumb sucking or finger sucking, along with pacifier use, is perfectly acceptable for infants. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), this is a natural reflex for an infant that can often be seen in the womb during development. This reflex gives your baby comfort and, as he grows, it may help him feel secure and happy. It can also be soothing, and many babies and toddlers use it as a coping mechanism when anxious or separated from their parents. The habit helps to induce sleep, and children may suck their thumbs in the evening before bedtime.

What damage can it do to a child’s teeth?

We have all seen thumb sucking in an older child and recognized how inappropriate it is. But when is the best time to stop or discourage it? According to the ADA, the best time to discourage thumb sucking is by age four. By this time, prolonged sucking could begin to affect your child’s mouth and developing jaw and teeth, possibly causing permanent teeth to be misaligned. Most parents can notice this happening as their child’s front teeth start to angle out. If your child passively sucks his thumb, the habit may be easier to discourage, but vigorous sucking can lead to changes in the palate that affect the permanent bite and are usually more difficult to end without intervention.

What are the long term affects if a child sucks their thumb longer than age 4?

If the habit continues beyond the age of five or six, the pressure and sucking motion will begin to make changes to the mouth and teeth. As detailed by the ADA, the front teeth may jut out, and the child’s bite will be open, not allowing the upper and lower front teeth to touch. The skeletal changes will begin to affect the alignment of the permanent or secondary teeth. Your child’s dentist can evaluate the changes and provide a referral to an orthodontist or pediatric dentist for a consultation. In very rare instances a dental appliance, or crib, may need to be placed in the roof of the mouth to achieve a change in behavior. The sooner the habit is stopped, the better the chance the bite will correct itself.

 What is the best way to help a child stop thumb sucking?

This habit will normally cease without any concern or effort. Often, the best strategy is simply to ignore the behavior. If the habit persists beyond kindergarten, however, it may be time to intervene.

  • Offer a pacifier to infants; pacifiers are easier to take away.
  • Establish a chart and reward system to track your child’s progress for quitting.
  • Encourage and praise your child when they attempt to stop.
  • Visit your child’s dentist to learn about positive effects of stopping the habit.

 

Some children may experience difficulty stopping their thumb sucking. In these instances, it may be necessary to purchase products that can be placed on the thumb or fingers in order to discourage the habit. Oftentimes, just placing a bandage on the finger or a sock or glove on the preferred hand is sufficient. Whatever method you choose to employ to discourage the behavior, remember to always use positive reinforcement to encourage your child. Criticism or nagging may cause more anxiety and perpetuate the problem.

If you have any questions about thumb sucking, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.