Thumbsucking: When To Worry
Does your child suck his thumb? Many parents find it convenient and cute when their baby sucks their thumb for comfort. However, this habit can cause anxiety for parents as the child gets older. At what point does a thumbsucking habit start posing a risk to a child’s dental health?
If your child is approaching kindergarten and still frequently sucks his or her thumb, you have a right to be concerned. Children who still have a mouth full of baby teeth and are under the age of 4 are at less risk for dental problems or bite correction treatments. Keep in mind, however, that your child is still exposed to extra germs and bacteria by thumbsucking, regardless of their age.
When children at 5 years or older still have a strong habit of sucking their thumb, your dentist will likely step in. At this point, the palate can be affected and alignment of their permanent teeth can be compromised. Many parents will notice that their child’s front teeth start to tip towards the lip.
A driving factor in whether or not your child’s thumbsucking habit will affect their smile is the intensity of the action. For example, a child who loosely places his thumb against his teeth may not suffer any complications, but a child who sucks aggressively is at a much greater risk.
If your child is getting ready to start kindergarten and still gravitates towards sucking their thumb throughout the day or during the night, it is time to break the habit. Your dentist can offer options such as a special mouth guard or a bitter medication to coat the thumb. However, some parents find it more effective (or less traumatizing) to first understand why their child’s thumb is going in the mouth. Thumbsucking can be a natural soothing mechanism, and your child may engaging in the habit when they are tired, insecure, anxious or bored. Exploring other alternatives for soothing or comforting your child in those situations can help break a potentially damaging dental health habit.
Always discuss your concerns for your child’s dental health with your dentist. Addressing a thumbsucking habit early can save you costly orthodontic treatment in the future.
Posted on behalf of Dr. Paul Gilreath IV, Gilreath Dental Associates