Have you ever heard that thumbsucking can make a child’s teeth grow crooked? It’s not an urban myth; it is unfortunately quite true! That’s not to say that babies shouldn’t suck their thumbs at all; in fact, thumbsucking is a common and important self-soothing behavior that many infants engage in. Between 60-80% of people suck their thumbs during the first 6 months of their lives, a habit which helps babies feel comforted and secure in the new world around them.
When Should A Child Stop Thumbsucking?
Though thumb sucking decreases significantly in most babies after 6 months of age, some young children keep up the habit for years to help them fall asleep, to soothe themselves, or simply for entertainment. However, if a young child keeps sucking their thumbs past the age of 4, the habit can push their developing teeth out of the correct position and alignment – which often results in a need for braces and orthodontics, and a host of other future dental issues.
In some cases, excessive thumbsucking can even change the shape of the roof of the mouth, the jaw, and the child’s facial features, which could potentially require surgery to correct. Thumbsucking can also lead to speech impediments (like a lisp), breathing problems (due to narrowed nasal structures and sinus passages), or a tongue thrusting habit.
Tips for Ending a Child’s Thumbsucking Habit
Because a thumbsucking habit can cause permanent damage to a child’s developing teeth and surrounding structures, it is crucial for young children to stop sucking their thumbs after age 4. Below are some tips that can help!
Set up a praise and reward system to encourage your child not to suck their thumb. Positive reinforcement always works better than negative reinforcement, so praise their good behavior rather than punish undesirable behavior.
Place deterrents on their hands or thumbs, such as bitter-tasting (but of course non-toxic!) nail polish or bandages around their thumbs, or mittens over their hands while they sleep. You could also purchase a TGuard – a simple device that goes over a child’s thumb and wrist which makes it impossible to generate a vacuum while thumb sucking, making it far less satisfying.
Talk to them and explain why thumbsucking is bad for their future smile! Even young children understand far more than most people think, and speaking patiently, simply and with repetition helps!
Identify the cause of the habit (often anxiety or boredom) and work to decrease or eliminate it.
If your child has a longstanding habit of sucking their thumb, please feel free to talk to us about it! We can help provide additional advice or resources geared specifically for your child, and also determine if the habit has already caused any damage to your child’s teeth, and what we can do to remedy any problems.
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