Why thumb sucking is bad for children’s teeth

If you asked a group of parents about their opinions on thumb sucking and pacifiers, odds are good that you would get a wide variety of opinions. This habit is a perfectly normal behavior in babies and young children because it provides security and comfort. The real problem begins when teeth start to come in because it can disrupt their formation.

When is thumb sucking a problem?

If thumbsucking continues after permanent teeth come in or especially in cases of excessively hard sucking, dental problems can occur.  Your child’s palate may become arched causing what’s known as an “Open Bite”.  It may also cause front teeth to be pushed forward, causing bite and speech problems.  Many older children who still suck their thumbs may have trouble making “S” sounds or sounds requiring the tongue to touch the front teeth.  Some children develop chapped skin or nail problems on the thumb or finger being sucked.  After age 5, or when permanent teeth are starting to erupt, the child should be encouraged to stop.

How can I help my child stop thumb sucking?

Children usually stop sucking their thumb during their toddler years, but some will continue to use the behavior as a comfort mechanism.  We’ve found that the best methods to curb thumbsucking are based on positive reinforcement.  Here are a few ideas you might consider:

  • A first-step may be to simply ignore the behavior, especially if it is part of a power struggle with your child or it is being used to gain attention.  Some experts suggest a “one month moratorium” on discussing the subject before moving on to other methods.
  • Use praise when your child isn’t sucking his or her thumb, never scold them when they do.
  • Try positive reinforcement such as a sticker chart or other reward system.
  • Seek out the possible causes of anxiety and work to alleviate the reasons for thumbsucking.
  • Some children suck their thumbs from boredom.  Try engaging your child in a fun activity.
  • Allow older children to pick a reward for not sucking their thumb.
  • Mention the behavior at your child’s next appointment and allow us to offer some positive motivation.
  • As a last resort, place a bandage or sock on the child’s hand at night to discourage thumbsucking while sleeping.
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