Thumb sucking childYour child’s thumb sucking habit may concern you.   You may wonder if it is harmful, at what age they should be encouraged to stop, and also what could happen if they don’t stop?

Children suck on things because sucking is a natural reflex. As infants get older, the sucking “sensation” can serve many purposes. Sucking a thumb, finger, pacifier, or anything within reach can make a baby feel secure and happy. Young children may also suck to soothe themselves into sleep. Over time though, sucking can cause problems with the alignment of the teeth, and also cause changes to the roof of the mouth.

The length and the intensity of the sucking are two main factors that determine the severity of the dental problems that may result. For example, If a child just rests their thumb passively in their mouths, he or she is less likely to develop problems compared to a child who vigorously sucks a thumb or other item. Regardless, If you detect changes in your child’s teeth you should consult your dentist to evaluate the specific situation.

As a rule of “thumb,” children should cease thumb sucking by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt, typically by age five or six. Most children stop sucking their thumb between the ages of two and four years.

TIPS TO STOP THUMB SUCKING

It is important to praise children for not thumb sucking, rather than to scold them when they are.

Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or when they are needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.

For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.

In our office, our philosophy is to offer encouragement to a child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.

If the above tips do not work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. There are also over-the-counter paint-on bitter medications to coat the thumb as a deterrent.

The book David Decides is yet another source of effective ideas to stop thumb-sucking in children. This book is readily available at bookstores and online on sites such as Amazon.com