Many young children suck their thumbs. Childhood thumbsucking is a natural reflex, and whether they suck on their thumbs, other fingers, pacifiers or other object, it may make babies feel happier and more secure. But when does thumbsucking become a problem? And how can thumbsucking affect your child’s teeth?
Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
According to WebMD, babies have a natural urge to suck their thumbs. Young children may continue to suck their thumbs to relax and comfort themselves. They may do it when they’re restless, hungry, fearful, sleepy or even just bored. Most children will stop thumbsucking on their own by the age of 3 to 5. Thumbsucking after the age of 5 is rarer and may indicate an emotional problem such as anxiety.
At What Age Does Thumbsucking Become a Problem?
If the child is younger than 4 years old, there is usually no problem with thumbsucking, and they’ll grow out of it. However, for kids who suck their thumbs on a regular basis or with intensity over the age of 4, or for any children still sucking their thumbs by age 6 or older, when their permanent teeth begin to come in, this activity may cause speech and dental issues down the road.
What Are the Short-Term Effects of Thumbsucking?
One short-term danger of thumbsucking when permanent teeth begin to come in is that the action of sucking on the thumb may push the front teeth forward or cause the teeth to become misaligned (otherwise known as malocclusion). This will typically be corrected once the thumbsucking stops. Also, if the child sucks their thumb at an older age when other children have already stopped, they may be embarrassed by it or may be teased at school and while out playing with other kids.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Thumbsucking?
Prolonged thumbsucking may in time more seriously affect proper tooth alignment, and may even cause changes in the roof of the child’s mouth. Depending on how frequent the thumbsucking is, the duration and the intensity, the upper and lower jaw may develop alignment problems and your child might have difficulty pronouncing certain words that contain Ds or Ts. It may even be the cause of lisping. Long-term, intense thumbsucking may eventually require orthodontic treatment.
What Can I Do to Get My Child to Stop Sucking Their Thumb?
Rather than scolding your child for sucking their thumb, it is recommended that you praise them when they’re not sucking. You can also consider giving them small rewards. Since children frequently suck their thumbs when feeling frightened or insecure, scolding or punishing them may cause the child to become defensive and the habit to become worse.
With older children, you may be able to help them stop sucking their thumb by speaking to them about it and learning what is making them scared or anxious so you can provide the comfort they need. In extreme cases, it might help to bandage the thumb at night or place a sock on their hand to discourage sucking. Their dentist or pediatrician might prescribe a bitter-tasting medication to put on the thumb or a mouth appliance, which makes thumbsucking more difficult and less enjoyable.