Thumbsucking and Its Affect On Your Child’s Teeth

It’s normal for your baby to start sucking their thumb when they are young; it’s an important part of them learning how to self soothe. The simple act of thumbsucking as a baby is not something that you as a parent need to worry about. It only becomes a problem if the habit continues far past the baby stage.

When does thumbsucking become a problem?

Thumbsucking only really has a negative effect on your child’s dental health, when it continues after their permanent teeth have come in. This is around the age of 5, or whenever their permanent teeth have begun to erupt and they’ve lost a few baby teeth. The reason this is an issue is because thumbsucking can cause what is known as an “open bite”. This is when they are constantly pushing on their soft palate, and it becomes arched. They can also push their front teeth forward, which can cause jaw and bite problems, as well as speech impediments.

How to get your child to stop sucking their thumb

Children usually naturally stop sucking their thumbs during their toddler years. Normally, positive emotional development as well as peer pressure will cause them to lose the habit. Some children, though, will continue to suck their thumb or fingers as a comfort mechanism past the toddler years. We recommend positive reinforcement when trying to break a thumbsucking habit.

-Ignore the behavior. In a lot of cases, simply ignoring the thumb sucking habit will make it stop. This is especially effective if it is part of a power struggle, and something you are constantly giving negative attention to. Ignore it for an entire month, and when they see you aren’t giving it any attention, they may completely stop on their own.

-Give your child praise when they aren’t sucking their thumb. Never scold or get angry when your child is sucking their thumb, though. Negative reinforcements rarely work.

-Other methods of positive reinforcement could include a sticker chart or any other form of appropriate reward system.

-Try to find why your child is anxious and in need of comfort, and then address that issue.

-If you’re still really at a loss and your child won’t stop sucking their thumb and you’re concerned, try placing a sock on their hands while they are sleeping to discourage the behavior. If you’re still having issues, mention the behavior at your next pediatric appointment.

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