Thumb-sucking is a natural reflex that is a common habit in many children. Babies are born with rooting and sucking reflexes that sometimes begin in the womb, that causes them to put their fingers, blanket, or pacifier into their mouths. Thumbsucking, pacifiers, or other objects make many babies feel happy and secure. Many young children continue to suck their thumb to soothe themselves to sleep or in stressful situations.
How can thumbsucking affect my child’s teeth?
Do not worry just yet! The American Dental Association says most children can safely suck their thumb without damaging the alignment of their teeth or jaws until their permanent teeth begin to appear. After permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with growth and alignment of the mouth and teeth. This may also cause changes in the roof of the mouth. Damages to the roof of the mouth is more likely to occur if your child sucks vigorously, as opposed to sucking passively, resting his or her thumb in their mouth.
When do children stop sucking their thumb and signs to watch out for?
According to the American Dental Association, most children will stop thumb sucking on their own around ages two and four. Some children will continue to suck their thumb beyond preschool years. However, studies have proven the older the child gets, the lower the chances are of them continuing the habit. If your child is still sucking their thumb by the age when his or her permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take intervening actions to break the habit. If you notice any changes in your child’s primary teeth or concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, contact your pediatric dentist!
How can I help my child quit thumbsucking?
Most children will stop thumb sucking on their own. However, some children may continue the habit a little bit longer. In some cases, paying no attention to thumb sucking is enough to stop the behavior.
If the thumb sucking continues, try one of these techniques:
–Positive Reinforcement: Praise your child or provide small rewards when he or she is not sucking.
–Identify Triggers: Even a child who has stopped sucking their thumb might revert back to the behavior when they are in stressful situations or anxious. If this is the case, it is important to identify the source of the real issue and provide comfort in other ways. Sometimes just a hug, pillow, or small stuffed animal to hold on to will do the trick.
–Offer Reminders: If you find your child thumb sucking without any thought, gently remind them they are doing so and to stop. It is proven ineffective to scold, criticize, or ridicule your child, as they may become more stressed and anxious, only to continue the sucking behavior. To spare embarrassment, come up with a gesture, noise, or key word to privately cue to stop sucking.
If you are concerned about thumb sucking, pacifiers or bottle feeding and how it may affect your child’s dental health and development, contact your pediatric dentist.