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High Cost of Thumb Sucking

Is your child a thumb or finger-sucker? While this habit may prove to be an excellent self-soother, it’s also one that puts your child’s teeth at risk for all sorts of problems.

If you have a thumb-sucking child and would like some practical advice about how to break this potentially harmful habit a dentist can help. Call a participating dentist in your area to schedule an appointment to examine your child to determine how and whether thumb or finger sucking has had an effect.

Small girl sucking her thumb

Thumb sucking can cause some severe dental damage if left unchecked.

A Common Habit

Thumb sucking is a relatively common habit among children. In fact, many actually start sucking in utero, as ultrasounds often show!

Why do so many children engage in this habit? Well, first of all, sucking is a natural reflex in babies. They suck to get food and then their thumbs, fingers and pacifiers become a means to exercise that reflex, soothe themselves, and learn about their world.

They also suck on fingers and pacifiers because it is relaxing, especially when they are confronted with unfamiliar situations and people or if they’re separated from their parents or regular caregivers. Since it is so relaxing, many children find it easier to fall asleep sucking on a finger or a pacifier.

So, When Should You Become Concerned?

Generally, most children stop sucking their thumbs or fingers between the ages of two and four. A child who sucks their thumb or fingers, or one who uses a pacifier, beyond the age of four could be at risk for certain dental problems. The intensity of the thumb sucking definitely plays a critical role in all of this; the more vigorous and intense the sucking action, the more likelihood of damage to the child’s teeth and jaw.

What Kind of Problems Can Thumb-Sucking Cause?

After the age of three-four years, thumb sucking may cause the following conditions:

  • Teeth can grow out of alignment and position.
  • Upper teeth can protrude outward.
  • Lower teeth can be pushed inward.
  • The roof of the mouth (palate) can be affected, causing problems with chewing, swallowing, speaking or overbite or underbite.
  • Self-esteem issues due to being teased by other children.

These issues can be serious, but they don’t have to be if you are proactive in dealing with your child’s thumb sucking..

What Can You Do About Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Habits?

There are a number of things you can do to help your child with a thumb/finger sucking or pacifier habit, including:

  • Praise children when you find them not sucking; don’t scold them when they are.
  • Since you child often sucks for comfort when they are anxious or afraid, try to get to the cause of their insecurities or provide comfort to them by sitting with them, reading a story, taking them on an outing, etc. to show your love and concern.
  • Agree to give up one of your bad habits (i.e., smoking) if they give up their thumb sucking – then set a date and stick to it!
  • Let the dentist explain to your child what could happen to their teeth if they don’t stop sucking and offer encouragement to your child to help them stop.
  • Try bandaging the thumb or having your child wear a mitten to bed.

Are There Other Alternatives?

Certainly there are. If the habit continues, and the dentist feels that it is appropriate, an appliance can be fitted to the roof of your child’s mouth (palate) to prevent your child’s thumb from exerting too much pressure on palate or any teeth. Children often find this device to be so uncomfortable that they stop sucking their thumb permanently!

The dentist can advise you on whether this is a good option for your child. Call a participating dentist near you to schedule an examination so you can rest assured that your child’s thumb sucking habit can be successfully dealt with!

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