Thumb Sucking

Thumb-sucking is a normal behavior in children up to a point. Our pediatric dentist will help you find out if your child’s thumb-sucking has gone on for too long, and how to compassionately get them to stop.
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Thumb sucking is a natural activity for young children, but if it goes on for a long time or otherwise seems abnormal, you may understandably have concerns. Our dental office can help in answering these common questions about thumb-sucking.

Why Do Young Children Suck Their Thumbs?

For babies, sucking is a natural reflex, and sucking a thumb can produce feelings of security. It may become an activity that your child turns to when they are experiencing boredom, sleepiness or another type of discomfort.

When Do Children Usually Stop?

Thumb sucking often persists for a while and then ceases on its own. The behavior often stops between six and seven months of age, or between two and four years of age. Even after your child or toddler has generally ceased thumb-sucking, the behavior may reemerge when your child is distressed. It is advisable not to pressure children to give up the habit too early.

How Old Is Too Old for Thumb Sucking?

While the habit is OK for a time, parents should be aware that thumb sucking can cause problems if it persists after a child’s permanent teeth come in, which begins at six to seven years of age. If thumb sucking continues once the permanent teeth are present, then problems may arise with the roof of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth.

Therefore, intervening might be necessary if the thumb-sucking continues past age five. Our dentist can advise you if your child’s thumb-sucking habit is becoming a problem for their dental development.

How Can I Get My Child to Break the Habit?

Encouragement is a good approach to getting your child to stop sucking their thumb. Going in with harsh tactics can discourage your child. Instead, try positive reinforcement. Complimenting your child and giving rewards for not sucking their thumb are two strategies. For example, you might set a goal with your child of no thumb sucking for an hour, then provide a reward and praise when they meet that goal. Charts are a fun, encouraging way to track progress.

Additionally, your child’s thumb-sucking may be tied to external triggers. Pay attention to see if certain situations or stimuli spark episodes of thumb-sucking, and make an effort to comfort your child when those triggers come up. Providing a favorite stuffed animal or a pillow to squeeze may give your child a comforting outlet that isn’t thumb-sucking.

How Can Our Dentist Help?

You also don’t have to try to change your child’s habits alone. You can enlist our dentist to explain to your child the dental problems continuing to suck their thumbs may cause. Depending on the situation, dentists and orthodontists may also recommend the use of a crib, which is a device that goes in the mouth and prevents thumb sucking. These can be used for several months to a year, and they are often called for if there are signs of dental damage from thumb sucking.

While thumb sucking is a perfectly normal thing for children to do, you may need to enlist the help of our dental team to stop the habit early. Contact our office today to schedule your child’s appointment.

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