Thumb sucking is one of the most recognizable behaviors found in children. Sucking 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 even encourage sleep. Studies have proposed that as many as 90% of children have engaged in this type of activity in their lives. We have even seen that thumb sucking can begin in the mother’s womb during pregnancy. It’s natural, safe, and can be quite helpful to parents, as their baby learns to soothe themselves from time to time.
Whether this oral fixation is satisfied with a thumb or the commonly used pacifier, most children discontinue this practice before long. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that most children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4.
Once your baby’s first set of teeth are in and thumb sucking persists, there is a chance that this habit could push the teeth slightly forward. Fortunately, this will in no way affect the placement of the adult teeth or add to the cost of your child’s future dental bills. Thumb sucking, even in toddlers, is considered normal. It does not mean there is anything wrong with your child and that they should feel embarrassed or ashamed. Even the most persistent thumb sucker ordinarily stops on their own by the time toddlerhood has ended.
Thumb sucking infrequently continues past the age of four. This is usually found to be the result of too much attention or negative reinforcement given to the habit in previous years. Beyond this age, thumb sucking can begin to impact the alignment of the adult teeth, so it is best your child shed the habit sooner rather than later.
How do you help them with this? Don’t reprimand them because of it, don’t remove the thumb from their mouth and don’t mention it. This is where their growing awareness and social cues come in handy. As your child begins to notice that the kids around them aren’t sucking their thumbs anymore, they won’t want to either. They will also start to discover other skills or items to give them comfort and security. Peer pressure becomes a much greater deterrent than a parent’s disapproval.
What Can I Do to Support my Child Through Thumb Sucking?
- Insecurity often causes anxiety in children and this may lead to thumb sucking. Instead of reprimanding them, try to focus on what is making them feel anxious.
- Parents who provide comfort and positive reinforcement to their children will see a less likelihood of thumb sucking.
- Take note of the times your child tends to suck on their thumb and create diversions during these occasions.
- Ask your child’s dentist to speak with them about the impact thumb sucking will have on their mouths.
- Place a band-aid or a sock on your child’s thumb as a reminder to avoid putting their thumb or fingers in their mouth.
Thumb sucking can be a troublesome habit for parents, mostly when it feels like your child is the only one still engaging in the behavior. Permitting your child to find other ways of comforting themselves is more helpful to them in the end. If you have any other questions on how to improve your child’s oral health, please give our pediatric dental office a call. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, visit our website or give us a call today.
Capitol Hill Pediatric Dentistry
Phone: (202) 849-3292
650 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Suite 220
Washington, DC 20003