Thumb Sucking

image52Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and naptime, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. Studies show that up to 95% of infants suck their thumbs.  The majority of children suck a thumb or a finger from a very young age, and may even have started inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant, and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

When should I be concerned?

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them.

image51However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years. If your child is still sucking when his permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.

If your child sucks passively, with his thumb gently resting inside his mouth, he is less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, he is an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on his mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child’s thumb-sucking may be affecting his oral health, please give us a call or bring him in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

image50It is typically better to encourage your child to use a pacifier to begin with instead of letting them suck their thumb or fingers.  It is much easier to stop a child from using a pacifier than to get them to stop sucking their thumb!

Should you need to help your child end his habit, follow these guidelines:

Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when he doesn’t suck.

Use the Snip N’ Clip Method for Pacifiers. Using a pair of scissors, clip a small portion of the end of the pacifier tip off. The following week and every week thereafter, repeat the process clipping off progressively more of the pacifier. Your child will not notice the change each week and will eventually lose interest.

Start a progress chart and let him put a sticker up every day that he doesn’t suck his thumb. If he makes it through a week without sucking, he gets to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.) When he has filled up a whole month reward him with something great (a ball glove or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in his treatment will increase his willingness to break the habit.

If you notice your child sucking when he’s anxious, work on alleviating his anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb-sucking.

Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the thumb-sucking habit.

If necessary, Dr. Victor can fabricate a wire crib that can be inserted into your child’s mouth and will discourage their thumb-sucking habit.  Talk to Dr. Victor about whether or not this may be useful for your child.