Sucking on thumbs, fingers, and pacifiers is a natural reflex for children and helps them feel more comfortable and secure growing up. Don’t worry if your child begins to suck their thumb because according to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs. However, the thumb sucking could potentially impact your child’s dental health if it lasts too long so it’s important to pay attention to the habit.
Babies are both with natural rooting and sucking reflexes because it helps soothe the infant and provide them with a sense of security. Many children begin sucking their thumbs or fingers at a very young age, or even inside the womb! Thumb sucking helps your baby relax, which is why many children fall asleep sucking their thumbs. Many children simply grow out of the habit and stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four. While some children continue the habit beyond preschool, studies have shown that the older the child gets, the lower the chances are of continued thumb sucking. If your child continues to suck their thumb after permanent teeth have erupted, it may be time to stop into our office to help your child break the habit.
If your child sucks their thumb vigorously in a manner that puts pressure on the mouth and teeth, the habit could damage how the roof of the mouth and the teeth are supposed to develop. Passive thumb sucking, when the thumb is just gently resting inside the mouth, is less likely to cause damage. Continued thumb sucking without intervention may lead to necessary orthodontic treatment in the future as permanent teeth and face shape can be affected. If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking affecting their oral health, please contact our office to set up an appointment to assess the situation.
Follow these suggestions if you need help ending your child’s thumb sucking:

    1. Use positive reinforcement and be supportive. Praise or reward your child for not sucking their thumb instead of punishing them when they do.
    2. Identify triggers. If you notice your child sucking in response to stress or anxiety, work on identifying and removing the issue rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
    3. Create diversions. If your child tends to suck during certain times (long car rides, while watching television), distract them.
    4. Cover the thumb. Place a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a glove over the hand at night to help them remember to avoid sucking.
    5. Use a progress chart. Let your child put a sticker up every day that they don’t suck their thumb. If they make it through a week without sucking, they can select a prize. Once the whole month is full, reward your child with a “grand prize” (a new toy or video game) and the habit should be finished.
    6. Explain potential issues. Clearly tell your child what could happen to the teeth if they keep thumb sucking.

Remember that your child needs support, patience, and understanding while they learn to break their thumb sucking habit.