Thumb sucking can be an all too common habit for many children. It is also an instinctual, natural reflex for many children as a way to soothe themselves. However, over time thumb sucking can be detrimental to a child’s dental and physical development. While it is perfectly natural and healthy when a child is in its infant stages that same habit can become very problematic as they begin to develop teeth and socialize with others.
Is Thumb Sucking Normal?
Yes! It is quite normal. The thumb sucking can occur even in the womb. As infants, children learn about the world thru putting things in their mouths but eventually it becomes a soothing mechanism to make them feel secure and happy and even help them to fall asleep.
Dental Issues From Thumb Sucking
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics treatment for dental problems caused by thumb sucking is generally needed only in children who continue to suck their thumbs past their fifth birthday.
Once the permanent teeth begin to erupt and develop in the mouth, the constant thumb sucking may cause dental issues. The common sign is the top teeth push out and upward, and bottom teeth to push inward. This tooth movement due to thumb sucking can cause the following issues:
-Development of a “buck tooth” appearance
-Inability to close the front teeth (open bite)
-Damage to the roof of the mouth
Pacifiers are known to cause similar issues as thumb sucking but the habit of using the pacifier is a far easier habit to break, it can be thrown out, whereas a finger can not. The determining factor if thumb sucking causes dental problems or not, includes the intensity and length of time of the thumb sucking. Checking a child’s thumb for damaged skin and calluses can help determine the severity of the thumb sucking habit. Many children simply rest their thumbs in their mouth and do not actively suck on them. These children are far less likely to develop any long term dental issues from this type of thumb sucking. Aggressive thumb sucking however will have a higher likelihood of developing issues with their primary and permanent teeth if the thumb sucking habit continues.
Speech problems caused by thumb sucking are related to the misaligned teeth, distorted palate, and tongue thrusting. The tongue does not have the ability to find the correct placement for proper enunciation, and the tongue muscle actually needs to be retrained for proper placement of sounds. Tongue thrusting is the pushing forward motion of the tongue when swallowing, causing a continued pressure on the teeth even when not thumb sucking. Speech problems can include not being able to properly say S’s, T’s and D’s, lisping, and tongue thrusting when talking.
Children who are thumb sucking may need treatment include:
-Those who have not stopped thumb sucking on their own by age 4-5.
–Speech problems are becoming noticeable due to thumb sucking.
-Peer Pressure – If they are teased or feel embarrassed socially by their thumb sucking.
Tips For Breaking The Thumb Sucking Habit
Breaking a thumb sucking habit will not be easy. The longer your child does it the harder it is to break them of the thumb sucking habit. The following are some tips to help move the process along and break them of their thumb sucking habit.
–Communication. Talk to your child about their thumb sucking habit. Explain how it can affect their teeth and kids might make fun of them. Ask how they feel and what you can do to help? Talk about alternative options when the thumb sucking urge comes on.
-Positive reinforcement. This works wonders with children especially of this age. Simple rewards like extra play time or a trip to the park can go a long way to helping break the thumb sucking habit.
–Ignore The Issue. Some kids have a thumb sucking problem as an avenue for attention. I would not recommend this as a long term way of breaking thumb sucking habit but it is worth exploring.
-Offer Up An Alternative. Parents should give their child encouragement and offer to do a different activity when they feel the thumb sucking urge coming on. Could be something like squeezing a pillow or hugging their favorite toy.
–Speak To Your Dentist. As an authority figure in your child;s life they may have more impact in this area. Your child may listen to them more intently. Your dentist will also offer dental treatment options. These can include:
-Special Nail Polish. This nail polish will be placed over thumb nail and have a foul taste for your child when they go into thumb sucking habit.
-Thumb sucking device that covers thumb. This will physically make it hard to get comfort when thumb sucking.
-Dental Habit Appliance. This is a custom made dental appliance that will make it impossible for your child to continue thumb sucking comfortably.
Thumb Sucking Conclusion
Breaking your child’s thumb sucking habit will take patience and persistence on both your parts. It is a very difficult habit to break especially the longer it is allowed to continue. If you need help call your dentist. Sometimes a group effort is what is needed. Also, be aware that putting too much pressure on yourself or your child can make matters worse. Best to take a calm, methodical approach.