Thumb sucking is one of the most common children’s habits with almost half of all children under 4 years old doing so. But what effects does it have on their teeth and what can you do to prevent your child from sucking their thumb?
What Is It?
Babies are born with a natural urge to suck on something. This urge naturally decreases at 6 months old, however many children will still suck their thumb to calm them as they are falling asleep. Children who tend to continue the habit after 4 years old often do so when they are tired, hungry, restless or scared.
Effects On Their Teeth
You are probably already aware that thumb sucking can cause orthodontic problems. But what actually does it do? Excessive sucking on a pacifier or a thumb can cause teeth to grow inwards and can lead to middle ear infections. Sometimes surgery is needed to fix these problems. Teeth being pushed around the mouth can cause an overbite or underbite to form.
But it’s not just the teeth that can be affected. A lisp can develop as a result of thumb-sucking changing the jaw bone positioning. The roof of the mouth can become sensitive and germs from the thumb can lead to infections.
You’ll be pleased to know that most damage caused by thumb sucking is reversible. If children stop sucking their thumb before preschool age when their adult teeth have started to grow, the teeth will usually go back on their own.
How to Prevent your Child from Sucking their Thumb
Trying to stop your child from sucking their thumb may seem like a challenge. Here are some tips to help you teach them in a constructive way.
Eliminate Sources of Stress
Thumb sucking is normally a result of a child being hungry, tired, restless or scared. Try to figure out which of these is triggering your child to suck their thumb at any time and work to find a solution. Using distraction techniques to prevent the thumb sucking such as a toy or song often has positive results too.
Punishing or nagging your child to stop them from sucking their thumb may seem like the easier option but try to avoid it. They will see it as a cause of stress and may repeat the habit more. Instead, encourage them when they don’t do it. Positive reinforcement has far better results than negative.
Another way to help them kick the habit is by educating them on the long term effects of thumb sucking. By explaining why they shouldn’t continue with their comforting habit, will increase the likelihood of you achieving positive results from it.