What’s the deal with thumb-sucking?

Kids suck their thumbs due to the fact that it’s comforting and calming. Most little ones develop this habit while in the womb, and continue it as an infant. Before you know it, your child is sucking their thumb when tired, scared, bored, sick, etc.

Infants are hard-wired to need and enjoy sucking, even when they aren’t feeding. For some infants this need is much greater than others. Many children discard the habit on their own by their first birthday, when it begins to cause problems is when they continue to suck their thumb beyond four to five years old.

Prolonged thumb sucking may cause the teeth to become improperly aligned, or push the teeth outward. This sometimes will correct itself after the thumb-sucking stops, but the longer it continues, the more likely is that orthodontic treatment will eventually be needed.

Speech problems can also develop with thumb-sucking, such as the child not being able to say T’s and D’s, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking. What many people don’t know is that children can safely suck their thumbs without damaging the alignment of their teeth or jaws until their permanent teeth begin to appear.

Not all thumb-sucking is damaging. Some children intensely suck, thrusting their tongues, that’s what could develop into dental issues down the road. Children who rest their thumbs in their mouth are less likely to have dental problems. It’s important to observe your child’s technique, and determine the intensity of it.

Don’t worry about trying to break the habit when your child is young, but if you begin to notice that their sucking is intensifying, or you notice irregular changes in speech or dental, that’s when you should begin to try and break the habit.

Some ways to begin to crack the habit is by setting rules, or providing distractions to help limit the times or places they are allowed to suck their thumb. You can also put gloves on their hand, or a bandage on their thumb to help remind your child to not suck their thumb. Offer praise and rewards for not thumb-sucking, and make sure to not shame or punish your child if they continue to suck their thumb.

If home treatment doesn’t help break the habit, talk with your child’s doctor or dentist. It is important to keep reminding yourself though that thumb-sucking isn’t a problem in children that are preschool age or younger, most kids will stop on their own if you give them time.

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