Children, especially young ones, tend to have something or another that gives them comfort. Maybe it is a favorite toy, blanket, pacifier, or even thumb sucking. For many children, thumb sucking can be one of the most comforting things! There have been studies that show that anywhere between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs! Thats a lot of kids out there that suck their thumbs!
Believe it or not, thumb-sucking can begin as early as when your child is in the womb. Ultrasound scans have revealed that thumb sucking can start before birth, as early as 15 weeks from conception. In infants, it is a natural reflex and usually serves a purpose. You will often see children sucking their thumbs when they are tired, bored, worried or stressed. Thumb-sucking gives the child security and comfort.
According to the American Dental Association, most kids stop sucking their thumbs on their own by the ages of 2 4 with little if any damage as a result. The habit no longer serves its purpose, so they stop. So as a parent, should you worry if your child is sucking his/her thumb?
In most cases, no. But, there are many children who will continue this habit even beyond preschool years. This is when you should start to have more concern over the habit. If your childs permanent teeth begin to erupt and they are still sucking on their thumbs, it may lead to dental problems and require orthodontic treatment. Start taking action now if your child is still sucking their thumb and they have permanent teeth!
So, what should you do? It is important to pay attention to your childs habits, in case his or her behavior has the potential to affect oral health. The first thing you should do is pay attention to how your child is sucking their thumb. There are ways that are more likely to cause serious problems than others. When they suck on the thumb, if they are sucking softly with their thumb rested softly inside the mouth, this is less likely to cause problems. However, children who vigorously suck their thumbs and continue to do so beyond age four risk causing damage that will require orthodontic treatment to correct. The thumb or fingers can exert unwanted pressures upon teeth, bone, and soft tissues in the mouth causing orthodontic problems with positioning of teeth and growth of the jaws.
– Talk to them! Explain to your child that sucking their thumb may cause damage to their teeth. Kids today are smarter than you think. They like being treated like an adult. You can even show pictures like the ones below to illustrate your point.
– Develop a program with your child’s input to stop the habit. Let them be proactive in determining the best way to correct their own problem. They are more likely to cooperate if they have a choice in the process.
– Pay attention to the times they are sucking their thumb. Is it only at nighttime? While watching TV? What about during long trips, like car rides or airplane trips? Create fun activities or diversions for periods of down time if they are sucking their thumbs then.
– Suggest aids, like wearing a sock or band-aide on the thumb to bed at night as a reminder. Try giving them a ball to hold to occupy their hands.
– With some children, it may necessary to take away a blanket or stuffed animal that goes along with the habit. Explain that its not punishment, just a reminder to not suck their thumb. Think creatively!
– Another handy product to help is Mavala Stop. Mavala Stop is a completely safe and harmless nail polish that has the appearance of clear enamel. Because of the bitter taste, your child will eventually stop sucking his or her thumb. It can be purchased on Amazon.com and is relatively inexpensive.
– Start a progress chart. Children like to be able to see their progress. A chart is a great way to demonstrate how well they are doing at breaking the habit. Put a gold star or a sticker of their choice up each day that they go without sucking their thumb. Set up a rewards plan for if they go a certain amount of days without sucking the thumb. There is nothing wrong with bribing your child to stop a habit that is adverse to their dental health!
– With older children, offer a large reward after the habit has stopped for at least 4-6 weeks. Make the reward well worth the hard work and emotional stress it takes to stop a persistent habit.
– If you notice your child relapsing, work on alleviating what is causing the stress and anxiety which causes the reaction, rather than the habit itself.
– Always, always, always be supportive and positive. Dont yell at them or punish when they are caught, it will just reiterate the problem. You always want something more when you are told “no”. Instead, praise them for when they dont suck their thumb!
Remember, in many cases, it is just as difficult for a child to stop sucking their thumb or finger as it is for an adult to stop smoking cigarettes. Be supportive and understanding. Additionally, be proactive when it comes to your child’s long term dental health. Even though a thumb habit is stopped at an early age, orthodontic treatment still may be indicated due damage done prior to stopping the habit. Contact our office and have your child evaluated by Dr. Lee or Dr. Meyrowitz. Many problems can be lessened, or even corrected, if treated at the right time.