Why you should speak with your dentist about thumb sucking

Why you should speak with your dentist about thumb sucking

Life can be undoubtedly stressful for parents. The questions, concerns, and worries that accompany the act of raising children seem to be never-ending. Further, within every subset of parenting and within every situation that arises, there are numerous ways to deal with that issue. It can difficult to sort through hearsay and anecdotes when attempting to find an answer to a simple question. One of the most common questions parents have for their children’s dentists pertains to thumb sucking. Is it good? Is it bad? Should it be stopped? Fortunately, in regard to thumb sucking, anecdotes need not apply: all you need to do is turn to your friendly pediatric dentist for guidance.

What Is “Normal” Behavior?

Thumb sucking is not abnormal, nor is it “bad.” In fact, the American Dental Association notes that along with the use of pacifiers, thumb sucking is a common and a natural reflex in infants. It provides a baby with a sense of comfort and security. Thumb sucking is also used as a coping mechanism for babies when they are separated from their parents. Further, thumb sucking induces sleep. If your baby or toddler is sucking his or her thumb, there is no need to fret. This is normal behavior. However, the behavior itself should not be ignored. It is wise to watch your child to see how often he or she sucks his or her thumb. This can usually give parents a look into how difficult the habit will be to “break” down the line.

When Does “Normal” Become “Abnormal?”

If you child is still sucking his or her thumb by age four, it is a good idea to begin the process of discouraging the behavior. By age four, prolonged thumb sucking could affect the mouth of your child and the development of his or her jaw and teeth, resulting in teeth that are misaligned. For children that suck their thumbs continuously, the palate can also be affected; this leads to a change in a child’s permanent bite. With that all being said, early intervention is best for getting a child to stop sucking his or her thumb. If you notice that your toddler sucks his or her thumb pervasively, it is a good idea to start trying to break the habit as soon as possible as the habit will likely take longer to break and will be a harder experience for every party involved.

Risks of Continued Thumb Sucking

When a child’s thumb-sucking habit continues past the age of five, the mouth will experience additional changes. Aside from the front teeth jutting forward, which creates an open bite and does not allow the upper and lower front teeth to touch one another, skeletal changes in a child’s permanent (or adult) teeth can occur. In order to avoid these complications, there are a few steps parents can take to discourage the habit. If you notice that your infant is sucking his or her thumb and you want to make the “weaning off” process easier, switch out the thumb for a pacifier. Pacifiers are easier to take away from a child and are not as tempting as an always-available thumb. It should be noted that many mothers who breastfeed may want to wait to introduce a pacifier until their nursing routine is established. Encouragement and praise also go a long way in habit change. Some parents use socks over a child’s hands at night to ward off thumb sucking. For older children, things like fidget spinners are great ways to keep hands busy. Additionally, it is important not to berate a child for sucking his or her thumb. Positive reinforcement is a better method when it comes to habit change, especially when dealing with something that is used as a coping mechanism. If a thumb-sucking child feels stressed or anxious, they are more likely to turn to thumb sucking to “cope,” defeating a parent’s original intentions.

If you have exhausted all options, speaking with your pediatric dentist. Thumb guard devices are available for cases that are harder to break. Further, having your child’s dentist speak to your child about thumb sucking may reinforce the idea that thumb sucking at his or her age can do more harm than good.


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