Thumb Sucking Doesn’t Get a Thumbs Up

Baby napping and thumb suckingCharles Barkley, the Hall of Fame NBA player, once famously said, “I’m no role model.” At Gentle Dental, we think Linus van Pelt should say the same thing. 

You know Linus, the thumb-sucking brother of Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip and on the upcoming fall TV special. Despite being at some grade level in elementary school, Linus still sucks his thumb. Should your kids emulate Linus? No. 

Why? Thumb sucking should run its course usually before a child reaches preschool age. 

In case you have a thumb sucker in your household, here’s some information on this universal childhood habit. 

What is normal thumb sucking? 

Thumb sucking is a natural human comfort behavior. Sometimes it even gets a head start — in ultrasounds you can often see the fetus 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? 

The American Dental Association recommends discouraging thumb sucking by the age of four. 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 the permanent teeth to be misaligned, and that only spells the need for orthodontics later. 

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? 

Parents struggle with how to end prolonged thumb sucking. Believe it or not, often the best way is to pay it no mind and ignore the behavior. Without any undue attention, kids usually cease their thumb sucking on their own. They usually start to understand that there is a point where sucking their thumb isn’t cool in certain social situations or when they compare themselves to other kids. There’s no need to put a couple drops of Tabasco sauce on their thumb, as you may have heard a neighbor do. In most cases, kids just stop sucking their thumb one day. 

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.

Have questions about your child and thumb sucking? We can help you with strategies to help your child give up the thumb. Call us at Gentle Dental, (732) 549-5660 and let’s talk.

Posted in: Family Dentist, General Dentistry

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