When children are young, it’s very tempting to let them suck their thumb or a pacifier for comfort. Thumbsucking is a natural reflex for babies and helps them feel secure, while also soothing them and helping them fall asleep. But where do you draw the line?
Many parents don’t realize the negative effects that can occur from thumbsucking or pacifier use past infancy on their child’s permanent teeth and bite. Today, we want to highlight the potential problems that can occur from prolonged thumbsucking, and supply creative solutions to help your child break the habit.
Thumbsucking is normal for infants, and even toddlers up to age 3. Babies are born with a natural need to suck on something, which usually begins to fade after about 6 months. By about age 3, children have generally naturally weaned themselves of the sucking habit; if they haven’t kicked the habit by age 5, it could be a sign of emotional stress.
The real troubles with thumbsucking begin to occur when the child’s permanent teeth come in. Thumbsucking with permanent teeth can ruin the alignment of teeth and create a cause for costly future dental work. Children age 3-4 who are consistent thumb suckers will often develop a gap between their upper and lower teeth that can quickly become a large overbite, and their jaw development may be affected. Their tongue muscles also won’t develop correctly, leading to potential speech impediments such as a lisp making “s” and “th” sound difficult to produce.
How Can My Child Break the Habit?
It can be difficult for children to break the thumbsucking habit if they become accustomed to doing it when they’re bored, tired, scared, or hungry. A great place to start in breaking the habit is positive reinforcement. Praising your child often and eagerly will subconsciously instill a desire to continue the habit earning them praise – in this case, not sucking their thumb.
Trying a bad-tasting nail polish (also effective for nail biters, which is another tooth-damaging habit) can be a great tool for kids who want to quit sucking their thumb, but need the occasional reminder. Talking to your child about the effects of thumbsucking can also be beneficial; kids are perceptive, and if you sit them down to put the habit into terms they understand, it can make a difference in their outlook on it.
Remember, February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! At Susquehanna Dental Arts, we encourage children to begin visiting the dentist at age 3, unless there is a specific problem before then. We can also help your child understand what thumbsucking can do to their teeth, and brainstorm some good solutions with them to quit. Give us a call today at 717-285-7033 to schedule your child’s dental appointment; we look forward to seeing you soon!