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Infants Thumb Sucking | The Dental Effects

thumb sucking

It’s totally natural for your infant to suck on his or her thumb or cry for a pacifier, but this is a habit that could adversely affect the health and appearance of your child’s teeth. Check out the information below to learn about when thumb sucking stops being soothing and starts being a problem.

Here’s Why Infants Suck Their Thumbs

Sucking on a thumb or a pacifier is just part of a child’s instincts. Did you know that tiny babies begin sucking on their fingers while still in their mother’s womb? How adorable is that?!

Once out of the womb, babies and young kids exhibit the same behavior, so you’ll see them sucking on their thumbs or their other fingers, as well as on objects like pacifiers. When they do this, they feel content, relaxed, and secure, and it could even help them fall soundly asleep.

Here’s Why Thumb Sucking Could Be Bad

If your little one sucks on his or her thumb for too long, the once harmless habit could end up causing unwanted changes in the way your child’s mouth grows. For example, it might lead to changes in the roof of the mouth, it may cause skeletal changes that will ruin the alignment of the permanent teeth, and it might also cause an overbite.

Your son or daughter might even have a hard time pronouncing words correctly, and the lower and upper jaws might move out of alignment. The front teeth, in particular, might end up jutting outward, or the bite may become open, causing the lower and upper front teeth to become unable to touch.

Overall, the more aggressively your child sucks on his or her thumb, and the longer the habit continues, the more damage that could be done, including to the baby teeth.

When It’s Time to Discourage Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

To prevent dental problems and help ensure that your child’s permanent teeth will grow in beautifully straight, experts recommend discouraging this behavior by the age of four. At this age, your child’s entire mouth, including the teeth and jaw, could be affected by excessive sucking, so stopping the sucking is important. Plus, the longer your child goes on exhibiting this habit, the more difficult it will become for you to break it before mouth problems occur.

Note: When a kid continues sucking on a pacifier or thumb past five years of age, the permanent teeth are much more likely to be affected.

Rest assured that, just because your child sucks his or her thumb does not mean that it will turn into a behavior that will be really hard to break. A lot of kids actually end up stopping on their own, usually between the ages of two and four. You will start to notice that the sucking occurs less often until it gradually stops completely. That’s good news!

Ditching the Thumb (or the Pacifier)

Encouraging your kid to stop sucking on a thumb or pacifier is recommended if your child doesn’t stop on his or her own. Your goal could be to get your child to make up his or her own mind to stop the sucking, as that might help break the habit with greater ease.

Experts suggest that you keep things positive by rewarding good behavior, and avoid scolding your kid. After all, if your child’s thumb sucking is the result of anxiety or stress, scolding will only create more stress and more thumb sucking. And if the behavior does arise from anxiety, try to find and resolve the cause(s) of the anxiety so that your child won’t have to rely upon sucking on a pacifier or finger to find comfort.

Other tactics that you can try include:

  • Placing a sock over your child’s hands at night or applying a bandage to the thumbs.
  • Taking your child’s finger out of the mouth after he or she falls asleep.
  • Offering your child a pacifier, as getting your kid to stop using a pacifier might be easier than stopping thumb sucking. Like thumb sucking, pacifier use could be gradually stopped, and some experts recommend starting when your baby is just one year old.  
  • Recognizing how long your child can go without thumb or pacifier sucking and offering a reward. Gradually increase the time required until the next reward is earned.

You Could Ask Your Dentist for Help!

When your child won’t listen to you, he or she might be more likely to listen to a dentist, who can explain the effects of thumb sucking, such as crooked teeth and a need for braces later on.

On top of that, your dentist could also provide other helpful tools, such as mouth appliances or medications that coat the thumb in order to prevent sucking. And if you are noticing any changes in your baby’s primary teeth that may be caused by thumb sucking, a dentist can shed light on what is happening and how you could prevent further damage.

Overall, thumb sucking is considered a normal behavior, and it may not be any cause for concern. However, if your child does not stop on his or her own, particularly as the permanent teeth start to come through, there are several strategies that you can try to successfully discourage the behavior and ensure your child’s mouth will develop perfectly.       

Sources:

Millennials and Dental Care - Why They Need It and...
Pregnancy and Oral Health
Jodi Vance was very thorough and helpful in answering my questions and explaining features of the benefits I inquired about.
Mark Q.

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