How to Deal with Thumb Sucking in Children

Thumb sucking is a common habit among young children, which forms in infancy and can continue until 5 or 7 years of age. While there are no serious risks with thumb sucking for children in the early stages of life, it can pose problems once the child turns school-age.

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Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

In the womb, we develop a natural sucking or rooting reflex. This is why most infants suck on soothers and fingers, to find that same calming effect. In fact, there are some mothers-to-be that see their baby suck their thumb on a sonogram!

When Do Children Start and When Should They Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

For most babies, the thumb sucking habit develops in infancy as a baby discovers their hands. It should be noted that not all babies or young children develop the habit at any stage of life.

The comforting effect of thumb sucking can help sooth a child to sleep and may explain why some children continue to suck their thumb well after the age of 4 years. For most children, they tend to stop between the ages of 6 months to 3 years old without any preventative measures needed.

Why Is Thumb Sucking Harmful for Children

There are obvious and surprising reasons to help a child stop sucking their thumb by the age of 3 years old. The following are problems and issues that may be caused by thumb sucking, especially if it continues past age 3 years,

Open Bite & Overbite

One of the most common side effects is an open bite or overbite. An open bite is diagnosed when the front teeth of the lower and upper gumline grow outward leaving a space between the front teeth so they do not meet when the mouth is closed while an overbite refers to the outward growth of only the top front teeth. Both conditions may require orthodontic treatment to align the bite.

Skin Issues

With some cases of thumb sucking in older children, the constant exposure to moisture can cause the surface of the skin on the thumb to crack and/or calluses develop. Bleeding may also occur and any opening of the skin surface can risk infections and further medical treatment.

Speech Obstruction

If thumb sucking is performed while the child’s mouth is developing, the ability to speak clearly can also be affected. Children with speech impediments may require orthodontic devices as well as regular speech therapy to train the mouth to properly shape the letters when speaking.

Social Concern

Socially, thumb sucking is still a taboo subject as other children may make fun of the child, causing embarrassment, anger and frustration. The thumb sucking habit can put added stress on a child who is trying to discover their world and themselves.

How to Encourage Children to Stop Thumb Sucking

Preventative measures can vary depending on the child and the situation. It is usually recommended to begin weaning the child from thumb sucking around the age of 2 years old.

Weaning a child from the calming effect of thumb sucking can be a long, hard road for some parents and children. It is important to note whether the child is using thumb sucking as a coping mechanism for stressful situations.

Develop Positive Habits

Develop positive habits by using positive reinforcement when helping a child stop sucking their thumb. Small goals such as no thumb sucking while watching their favourite program can be extended to no sucking before bedtime. Be sure to offer praise and encouragement when a goal is achieved.

Identify the Root Cause

While some children may seem to suck their thumb at any time for any reason, there also may be a specific condition that causes them to turn to the habit. For some young children, they may suck their thumb due to separation anxiety such as being left with a babysitter. If the child feels the need to suck their thumb to relax before bed is the reason, consider extending story time or laying down in bed with them.

Provide Them with Alerts

As with most habits, thumb sucking can be done subconsciously without the child realizing they are doing it. Gently remind them with kind words in comparison to scolding or yelling. They may need several reminders at peak times.

Visit Princeview Dental for Children's Dental Services in Etobicoke

The staff at the Princeview Dental Group understand the physical and emotional impact a thumb sucking habit can have on a child. We specialize in family and emergency dental care in Etobicoke. Through our children’s dental program, we can ensure their oral health is progressing as it should.

Contact us today for more information! Please visit us at our new location under The Crooked Cue Pub and Restaurant at address, 3052 Bloor Street West, just west of Royal York Road on the north side.

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