What Parents Need To Know About Thumb Sucking

THUMB SUCKING IS NORMAL for infants, but many parents wonder about its effect on their child’s future dental health. As a parent, you may have questions such as, “When should I be worried about thumb sucking?” or, “What will happen if my child continues to suck their thumb?”

Because thumb sucking is so widespread–it’s estimated that about 75 to 95 percent of infants suck their thumb or fingers at some point–we want to help parents understand why it happens and how you can help your child break the habit if necessary.

Thumb Sucking Is Normal–Up To A Certain Point

If your infant develops a thumb sucking habit, remember, it is completely normal. Some children even begin sucking their thumb in the womb! It’s a natural reflex for babies and provides them with a sense of security and comfort.

In most cases, as baby grows and begins to explore the world around them, thumb sucking will gradually decrease and disappear on its own, usually between the ages of two and four. Past age four, however, thumb sucking should be discouraged.

The reason for this is that prolonged sucking can negatively impact your child’s developing teeth. Depending on the frequency and intensity of sucking, teeth and the upper and lower jaws can be pushed out of alignment and the formation of the roof of the mouth can be changed. It can even affect speech development.

What To Do If The Habit Persists

If your child’s thumb sucking habit persists, recognize when it occurs. Is it an absentminded habit or do they suck when they are anxious, stressed or nervous? The method you use to help break your child’s sucking habit may depend on the reason behind it. For some children, a discussion and goal setting is enough. For more difficult cases, you may need to enlist the help of your dentist.

Here are some general tips to help your child break the habit:

  • Explain. If your child is old enough, help them understand the consequences of thumb sucking and why they need to stop.
  • Make your child an active participant. Help your child come up with their own goals and prevention strategies. They will be more likely to keep their own goals.
  • Take note. Observe times they are more prone to sucking, if any, and try to create diversions.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Offer encouragement and support instead of punishments.
  • Make a progress chart. Help your child see their progress and reward them with a prize at the end of each week and/or month. Have your child be the one to place stickers on the chart and choose the prize.

Involve Your Dentist

Whatever the methods you choose to help your child break their thumb sucking habit, we are here for you! We can provide advice, support, and if necessary, further treatment options to help your child stop sucking their thumb or finger.

Talk to us about thumb sucking today–we’d love to address your concerns, answer questions and help come up with the best solution for your child.

Thank you for your continued trust in our practice.

Top image by Flickr user Raoul Snyman used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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