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Thumb Sucking and its Impact on Teeth

 

Most children suck their thumb when they are younger and we find it endearing and adorable.  Kids tend to suck their thumb when they are nervous or scared, and it can be a source of comfort for them and have the same effect as a blanket does. But it isn’t until they get older that it can have a negative impact on their teeth. When thumbsucking becomes an unbreakable habit, early intervention is key to preventing permanent damage to children’s mouth and their adult teeth.

The average age for thumbsucking is between two to four years old. Most kids will stop on their own, right around the time that their adult teeth are starting to come in. But some children will find the habit almost impossible to break and will suck their thumb until intervention takes place. The reason that it is so bad for permanent teeth is that it warps the jaw, which will later have to be corrected with braces or through surgery. The constant pressure of sucking the thumb will push the roof of the mouth up in a way that misaligns the jaw and will cause the front teeth to push forward. Very severe cases will result in problems with speech patterns, such as a lisp. There are ways that a parent can help in order to prevent these outcomes.

Positive Reinforcement

Most children who are six and older want to stop sucking their thumb, they just don’t know how. Getting them in trouble or yanking their thumb out of their mouth can result in the child being stubborn and wanting to suck their thumb more. Maintaining a positive relationship with your kids and having them on board and wanting to quit will make it a great learning experience. Observing when kids suck their thumb like if they are nervous or going to sleep, can allow you to anticipate their needs and replace their thumbsucking with something else like a blanket or a hug. Using a progress chart with a reward attached can also motivate children to want to quit for themselves.

Alternative Options

If rewards and positive reinforcement doesn’t work, then there are other ways that will force a child to quit. Putting a sock on their thumb at night will help if they need to suck their thumb to fall asleep. If the problem is persistent, consult your dentist and they can recommend the best course of action for your child. They can prescribe a bitter medicine to place on the thumbnail, or place a device in a child’s mouth called a “palatal bar” or a “crib” that would force them to stop sucking.

Thumbsucking is a cute habit that can be very hard to break once the child gets older. It can cause speech impediments, a misaligned jaw, and has social stigmas attached. Parents who are proactive in getting their children to stop sucking their thumb can prevent most of these problems, but there are still solutions if your child has developed any of these symptoms. Feel free to contact your dentist for the best options regarding your child’s health.