Thumb-sucking

Thumbsucking

Along with favourite blankets, teddy bears, and nap-time, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood.   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, the answer is no. However, it’s important to pay attention to your children’s habits, in case the behaviour has the potential to affect their oral health.

What Is Normal Thumb-Sucking Behaviour?

Most children begin sucking their thumb or finger from a very young age; many 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.

Most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between 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 pre-school years.  If your child is still thumb-sucking when the 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 the thumb. If it’s passive, with the thumb gently resting inside the mouth, there is less likelihood to cause damage. If, on the other hand, the habit is aggressive, placing pressure on the mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended thumb-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 their oral health, please give us a call or bring them in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

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

  1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when an attempt to stop the habit is made.
  2. Put a bandage on the thumb or a sock over the hand at night. Let them know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help remember to avoid thumb-sucking.
  3. Start a progress chart and put a sticker up every day that thumb-sucking is avoided. If your child makes it through a week without sucking, he or she gets to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.). When a whole month of stickers has been filled, give a big reward (a ball glove or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
  4. If you notice your child sucking when anxious, work on alleviating the 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 the teeth if thumb-sucking continues.

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