You’ve probably witnessed a child or two with a Thumb-Sucking habit and didn’t think twice about it. As a parent of a child who sucks their thumb, however, you may have some concerns.
Children develop habits and have a hard time breaking them, just like adults do. But a parent may be especially alarmed when they fear the habit will affect their child’s development. In the case of thumb sucking, your child may be okay.
The American Dental Association explains that thumb sucking is natural for infants. This reflex is commonly picked up by babies as a way to establish comfort. It’s been said to help reduce anxiety when babies are separated from their caretakers and even induce sleep. Pacifiers are known to accomplish a similar outcome. While it’s amazing that babies can pick up this natural way to soothe themselves, there’s a certain point when it’s no longer acceptable.
In many cases, children break this habit on their own. This is often due to recognizing social cues, However, if the problem persists beyond the age of 4, you may want to pursue a more active method of discouraging the habit.
The reason the ADA recommends breaking the habit by age 4 is because of the developmental outcomes. Vigorously sucking one’s thumb can negatively affect a child’s teeth and jaw.
What Are The Effects Of Thumb Sucking?
It’s impossible to predict how severe dental problems can become because it depends on how often the child sucks their thumb and how intensely.
Possible outcomes can include:
- Misalignment of front teeth
- An overbite
- Altering the look of one’s thumb
- A speech impediment
There may not be any harmful effects if a child passively sucks their thumb. However, because it can be difficult for parents to judge just how intensely a child is sucking their thumb, it may be safer to break the habit anyway.
How Can You Stop Your Child From Thumb Sucking
Because children typically suck their thumbs to calm themselves, telling a child they can’t suck their thumb may have the reverse effect. There are multiple methods you can try to help your child break the habit and not end up crying.
- Identify the cause- If your child is sucking their thumb as a way to get your attention, then the solution may be as simple as ignoring them. Eventually, they’ll realize that it’s not working and therefore drop the habit.
- If they’re sucking their thumb when they’re anxious, then you can try to calm their fears. Parents have also been successful here by giving children a toy, blanket, or pillow that provides them comfort.
- Praise for improvement- Instead of telling your child what they’re doing wrong, try praising them for their improvement. These positive reminders may help encourage your child to keep trying to stop.
- Visit a dentist- Having a doctor who works with teeth all day and understands the possible outcomes talk to your child may be a more convincing tactic. Bonus points if the dentist has images they can share.
- Cover their thumb- If your child is unable to break the habit, you may want to try covering their thumb with something that will constantly remind them not to suck. This could be a bandage, glove, or something with an unpleasant taste.
Permanent teeth begin to come in around the age of 6. If your child has been sucking their thumb for a while and is around 5 or 6, you may want to consult with a dentist on any potential long-term effects. Even if you haven’t seen permanent teeth come in yet, that doesn’t mean the developmental process for them hasn’t begun yet. Your child’s dentist will have a better understanding of whether there has been any damage.