What is considered normal thumbsucking behavior?
Children generally stop sucking their thumbs between the age of 2 and 4, gradually lessening as they begin to explore more of the world around them. It is important that the child’s thumbsucking stop before their permanent teeth come in between the ages of 4 and 6.
Toddlers suck their thumbs when frightened, tired or even teething. Thumbsucking is a reflex that soothe and calms children, helping them to feel secure.
This behavior is completely normal and even expected in young children.
Does thumbsucking cause dental problems?
In most case, thumbsucking doesn’t cause problems. However, in the rare case that the habit is prolonged, dental problems can result, including:
- abnormal mouth growth
- jaw misalignment/overbite
- poor tongue placement
- problems chewing/swallowing
- problems speaking
- skeletal deformities
- fingernail infections
The intensity of prolonged sucking also determines whether the habit will cause dental issues. Children who vigorously suck their thumbs are more likely to experience dental issues than those who rest their thumbs inactively in their mouths.
If you want to know whether your child’s thumbsucking qualifies as aggressive, listen for a popping sound when the child takes his or her thumb from the mouth.
However, a thumbsucking habit is not the end of the world. Parents should rest at ease unless the child’s habit continues beyond the age of 4.
How to Help Your Child Stop Thumbsucking:
In the case of the stubborn child, parent intervention can easily be implemented to stop a thumbsucking habit after the age of 4. Here are some tips for helping your child to stop:
- Praise your child for not sucking. Children respond better to praise than to scolding, and excessive pressure may only reinforce the habit.
- Reward your child for refraining from sucking.
- Children usually suck their thumbs when in need of comfort. Aim to remove the root of the problem by providing your child with consolation.
- If the child is older, involve him/her in choosing the methods for stopping.
- Ask your dentist to explain to your child what will happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
In extreme cases, when these methods do not work, you can provide your child with reminders by putting a sock over their hand at night or bandaging/taping the thumb. Your dentist may also prescribe a bitter medication for coating the thumb, or a mouth appliance to prevent sucking.
Do pacifiers cause the same problems as thumbsucking?
Potentially, yes, however pacifier sucking habits are typically easier for children to break than thumbsucking.
To avoid dental problems resulting from prolonged pacifier use, always make sure to give the child a clean pacifier. Avoid dipping pacifiers in sugar, honey or sweeteners because this will encourage the child to continue sucking.