If you have kids worrying is one of the realities of the job of parenting. And when it comes to your child’s teeth, you may be wondering about thumb sucking. Is he or she sucking their thumb too much? Should they have stopped by now? Are they damaging their teeth?
When parents bring their kids to Gentle Dental for their regular twice-yearly cleanings and exams we sense their anxiety about this potential bite-warping practice. Still, you don’t have to worry too much; thumb sucking usually passes before children hit preschool age.
Here’s the deal on thumb sucking and its affect on the teeth from the team at Gentle Dental.
What is normal thumb sucking?
Thumb sucking usually begins in infants. This is a natural comfort behavior of a child. Sometimes during an ultrasound, you can 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?
Parents wonder about thumb sucking and when it should end. This is no time to be like Linus van Pelt of Peanuts cartoon fame, carrying around a blanket and thumb sucking well into elementary school. 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 on.
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?
Usually the best way to get your kid to stop sucking their thumb is to ignore the behavior. 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. 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 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.