Thumb Sucking

The large majority of children suck their thumbs or fingers as infants, and most grow out of it by the age of four, without causing any permanent damage to their teeth. If your child continues sucking after permanent teeth erupt, or sucks aggressively, let us know and we can check to see if any problems may arise from the habit.

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there’s a thumb-sucker (or a former thumb-sucker) in your family. Is this cause for worry?

In most cases, no. However, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s habits, in case their behavior has the potential to affect his or her oral health.

What Is Normal Thumb Sucking?

The majority of children suck a thumb or a finger from a very young age; most even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant, and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb-sucking on their ownbetween the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them.

However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower their chances of continuing to suck his or her thumb). If your child is still sucking when his permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.

What Signs Should I Watch For?

First, take note of how your child sucks their thumb. If he or she sucks passively, with their thumb gently resting inside his or her mouth, they are less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, your child is an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on their mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child’s thumb-sucking may be affecting his or her oral health, please give us a call or bring him in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Stop?

Should you need to help your child end their habit, follow these guidelines:

1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when he or she doesn’t suck.
2. Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a sock over their hand at night. Let them know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.
3. Start a progress chart and 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 get to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.) When your child has filled up a whole month reward them with something great (a ball glove or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in his treatment will increase his willingness to break the habit.
4. If you notice your child sucking when he’s anxious, work on alleviating their anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb-sucking.
5. Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
6. Explain clearly what might happen to his or her teeth if they keeps sucking their thumb.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the thumb-sucking habit.


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