Parents worry all the time. It kind of goes with the job. When your kid is pretending he’s Linus of Peanuts fame, thumb sucking is one more worry item to add to the list. Is he sucking his thumb too much? Should she have stopped by now? Are they damaging their teeth?
At Gentle Dental, while we love Peanuts, we’re no fans of Linus and his thumb sucking into elementary school. As for your child, you probably don’t have to worry too much; thumb sucking usually passes before children hit preschool age.
However, since you’re worried about it, we may as well give you some information.
What is normal thumb-sucking?
Thumb sucking is standard behavior for most infants. It’s a natural comfort behavior of a child. Sometimes during an ultrasound, you can even see a fetus in the womb sucking his or her thumb. Thumb sucking can help a child feel secure and happy, and it can be soothing when there is anxiety such as when the child is separated from his or her parents. Thumb sucking or pacifier use can also help a child fall asleep.
How long can it go on?
While As Time Goes By maybe a catchy little song from Casablanca, parents wonder about thumb sucking and when it should end. Here, Linus van Pelt is no role model, carrying around his blanket and thumb sucking well into elementary school. The American Dental Association recommends discouraging thumb sucking by the age of four. Why this age mark? By this time, prolonged sucking can begin to affect the proper development of your child’s mouth, jaw, and teeth. Continued thumb sucking can cause permanent teeth to be misaligned.
If it continues into the five or six-year-old age the pressure from sucking will lead to changes in the mouth and teeth. The ADA says that the front teeth may begin to jut forward and the child’s bite will begin to open, meaning the upper and lower teeth won’t be able to touch. As the permanent teeth descend, they will start to become misaligned.
So, how do I break the habit?
Most kids simply stop sucking their thumb one day. This is especially true if you don’t place any importance on it, basically ignoring it. Kids usually start to understand that there is a point where thumb sucking isn’t cool in certain social situations or when they compare to other kids.
Still, if it endures, try these tricks:
- Offer a pacifier to infants. They are easier to take away, obviously.
- Establish a chart and reward system, plotting progress on quitting.
- Encourage and praise all attempts to stop thumb sucking in your child.