Your baby’s tendency to suck his thumb may start out as a cute and perhaps handy habit, but it is often a source of stress for parents if the child continues to suck his thumb through preschool years. One major concern from parents of thumbsuckers is whether or not the habit will affect their dental health.
If your child is under the age of 4 and their permanent teeth have yet to come in, the risk for dental complication is low. However, it is important to be aware of the frequent introduction of germs and bacteria that thumbsucking places in your child’s mouth throughout the day.
A dentist will become much more concerned if your child is still sucking his or her thumb frequently or aggressively after the age of 4 or 5. At this point, it can affect the palate or how the teeth line up. Thumbsucking can cause front teeth to start tipping toward the lip. When it comes to thumbsucking, intensity matters. A child who loosely places his thumb against his teeth will likely not suffer the dental problems that a child who sucks aggressively does.
Babies are born with a natural rooting and sucking reflex. Thumbsucking can quickly become your baby’s soothing mechanism. Children may suck their thumbs when they are tired, anxious, insecure or even bored. Understanding why your child is sucking his or her thumb can help you find successful ways to stop the habit.
How to Help
Every child is different so it is up to parents to find the most effective method for thier own child, depending on his or her age and the reason behind their habit. Below are some helpful tips to get your child to stop their thumbsucking habit:
- Offer positive reinforcement such as praising your child for not sucking.
- If you child tends to suck his thumb in response to insecurity, focus on finding the source of their anxiety and provide comfort in a different way.
- Let your child have a say so in the plan for stopping the habit (for older children).
- Ask your dentist to have a talk with your child to explain what could happen if they do no stop sucking. A chat with a dentist is often more effective than a lecture from mom and dad.
If the above tips are not helping, parents can choose to bandage the thumb or put a sock on it at night to break the habit. Also, a dentist can prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or even fit the child with a special mouth guard.
If you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth, or if you are concerned about your child’s thumbsucking habit consult your dentist. Gilreath Family Dentistry can help children stop their thumb sucking habits before it starts to impact the appearance and function of their smile.
Posted on behalf of Dr. Paul Gilreath IV,