Thumbsucking is not only incredibly common, it’s also very natural. Sucking on a thumb or pacifier brings a feeling of comfort and security to children; however, this isn’t always a good thing. After a child’s permanent teeth start growing in, thumbsucking and sucking on other objects for comfort or a sleep aid can cause major problems with your child’s smile.
How Does Thumbsucking Affect a Child’s Smile?
The severity of the damage largely depends on the intensity of your child’s sucking. A child who lets their thumb rest passively in their mouth is likely to see far less damage than the one who actively sucks as hard as possible. Unfortunately, vigorous sucking can also lead to problems with baby teeth. Thumbsucking can lead to improper alignment of the teeth, problems with tooth growth, and changes in the roof of the mouth. Pacifiers can lead to these same problems, but pacifiers are generally a much easier habit to break.
When Do Children Stop Sucking Their Thumb?
Thumbsucking is completely natural and normal among babies and young children, but only to a certain point. For the most part, children usually stop sucking their thumbs and using pacifiers between the ages of 2 and 4. This is the time that permanent teeth start getting ready to come through. Children still sucking their thumb intensely at ages 4, 5, or 6 run a high risk of developing dental or speech problems.
How Do I Break a Thumbsucking Habit?
If your child isn’t showing signs of slowing his or her thumb sucking, it may be time to step in so you can prevent dental damage. Remember that thumbsucking is a self-soothing action, so trying to have your child quit cold turkey will probably end up making things worse. Here are five strategical tips to help curb your child’s thumbsucking:
- Limit your child’s thumbsucking to his or her bedroom, not in public. Explain that thumbsucking is a bed activity to be done during naptime or before bed.
- Avoid criticizing thumb sucking by outlawing the act all together. Instead, praise your child when he or she is not thumbsucking.
- Practice self-awareness. Ask your child if he or she realizes thumbsucking is occurring, then help to find another way to sooth, like a blanket or teddy bear.
- Come up with a creative way to help your child see thumbsucking in a different light. For instance, if she likes Doc McStuffins, ask her, “Do you think Doc McStuffins sucks her thumb?” It will help children to process whether or not they actually want to be sucking their thumb.
- Remember that thumbsucking is a reaction to some form of anxiety, and quick fixes for thumb sucking generally exacerbate the situation. Avoid gloves, mittens, or gross-tasting treatments.
Cornerstone Family Dentistry in Middle Tennessee
It’s important to remember that children do grow out of thumbsucking eventually on their own. If you’re concerned about your child’s thumbsucking and its effects on his or her teeth, visit Cornerstone Family Dentistry today. We are prepared to help any member of your family, no matter the age, and our bilingual staff is equipped to help patients of any background. Contact us today to learn more about our services.