thumb sucking

What should I do about thumb sucking?

August 29th, 2015

While comfort for many adults may mean Netflix and tea or a nice afternoon on a paddleboard with a craft brew in hand, for babies it often manifests in. For him or her, it feels calming when they’re tired, scared, bored, sick, adjusting to challenges such as starting daycare or preschool, or trying to fall asleep at night.

Your preschooler most likely practiced this habit in the womb and perfected it as an infant. Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. Some continue the habit longer, but peer pressure in school is often an effective deterrent. However, this can significantly impact the health of your child’s teeth by damaging the alignment of the teeth and jaws.

Curbing the habit

Since children usually don’t realize that they are sucking their thumb, there is no sure way to break the habit. And methods like covering up their thumb can seem like a harsh punishment since they are seeking comfort through the act of thumb sucking. The best way to mitigate the habit may be to preempt the triggers with other options. See below for examples.

  • If your child's thumb becomes red and chapped from sucking, try applying a moisturizer while he or she is sleeping. (If you apply it when she's awake, it may just end up in her mouth.)
  • If your child tends to suck her thumb when hungry, she can learn to ask for a snack instead.
  • If they do it while watching television, consider giving them something else to hold to distract them, like a rubber ball.
  • If he tends to suck his thumb when he's tired, you could try letting him nap longer or moving up his bedtime.
  • If she turns to her thumb when she's frustrated, help her put her feelings into words.

Don’t worry too much

The American Dental Association says most children can safely suck their thumb until their permanent teeth begin to appear (usually around age 6).

Keep in mind, it’s the intensity of the sucking and the tongue’s thrust that can deform teeth to make braces necessary later. Observe your child's technique. If he or she sucks vigorously, you may want to begin curbing the habit earlier, say around age 4. Otherwise, waiting it out should be just fine.

If you notice any changes in your child’s mouth or teeth, or if you're unsure whether their thumb sucking is causing problems, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 541-548-8175. You could save time and money down the line by acting now.