Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking, the good, the bad and the normal

As parents, we have a myriad of concerns when it comes to our kids. We want our children to grow up healthy without developing any habits that would jeopardize their proper development. Thumb sucking is one of the things that we worry about as our babies grow and become toddlers. Parents wonder if the habit will continue, or if they have to seek help to stop it. Never fear: Common sense or advice from your child’s dentist or doctor is frequently all you need. The good news is that the habit will often stop well before your child starts preschool.

Normal Behavior
Thumb sucking or finger sucking, along with pacifier use, is perfectly acceptable for infants. This is a natural reflex for an infant that can often be seen in the womb during development. This reflex gives your baby comfort and, as he/she grows, it may help feel secure and happy. It can also be soothing, and many babies and toddlers use it as a coping mechanism when anxious or separated from their parents. The habit helps to induce sleep, and children may suck their thumbs in the evening before bedtime.

How Long Is Acceptable?
We have all seen thumb sucking in an older child and recognized how inappropriate it is. But when is the best time to stop or discourage it? The best time to discourage thumb sucking is by age four. By this time, prolonged sucking could begin to affect your child’s mouth and developing jaw and teeth, possibly causing permanent teeth to be misaligned. If your child passively sucks their thumb, the habit may be easier to discourage, but vigorous sucking can lead to changes in the palate that affect the permanent bite and are usually more difficult to end without intervention.

Steps for Discouraging
This habit will normally cease without any concern or effort. Often, the best strategy is simply to ignore the behavior. Children will figure out on their own when this behavior is not acceptable from social situations and peer pressure. If the habit persists beyond kindergarten, however, it may be time to intervene.

• Offer a pacifier to infants; pacifiers are easier to take away. (A favourite among mothers The NUK 100% Silicone pacifier is made from one piece construction and the silicone is soft on your babies face. The nipple has an orthodontic shape to better fit baby’s mouth, which promotes healthy oral development and teeth alignment by exercising baby’s tongue, palate and jaw)

• Establish a chart and reward system to track your child’s progress for quitting.

• Encourage and praise your child when they attempt to stop.

• Visit your child’s dentist to learn about the positive effects of stopping the habit.

Some children may experience difficulty stopping their thumb sucking. In these instances, it may be necessary to purchase products that can be placed on the thumb or fingers in order to discourage the habit. Oftentimes, just placing a bandage on the finger or a sock or glove on the preferred hand is sufficient. Whatever method you choose to employ to discourage the behavior, remember to always use positive reinforcement to encourage your child. Criticism or nagging may cause more anxiety and perpetuate the problem.

Oral Effects
If the habit continues beyond the age of five or six, the pressure and sucking motion will begin to make changes to the mouth and teeth. The front teeth may jut out, and the child’s bite will be open, not allowing the upper and lower front teeth to touch. The skeletal changes will begin to affect the alignment of the permanent or secondary teeth. Your child’s dentist can evaluate the changes and provide a referral to an orthodontist or pediatric dentist for a consultation. The sooner the habit is stopped, the better the chance that the bite will correct itself.