thumb-sucking-girlSucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Children should stop sucking their thumb by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Pressure from their friends causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. Ask our pediatric dentist as soon as you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier. The earlier, the better. Our office can design a customized program to encourage discontinuing the habit if we feel necessary.

A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking: 

•Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise him when he is not. 

•Children often suck their thumb when they feel insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking. 

•Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less the need when their parents provide comfort. 

•Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents or other stressful situations.  

•The pediatric dentist can encourage your child to stop sucking the thumb and explain what could happen if the habit continues. 

•If these approaches don’t work, remind your child of the habit by placing a bandage on the thumb or putting a sock on the hand during the night. 

Sometimes, it can be quite difficult for children to stop the habit by themselves. Our Pediatric dentist or Orthodontist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance that is custom made for your child. At the end of the treatment, most children stop sucking their thumb and never do it again.  You will be amazed how the teeth will improve when the habit stops!