Thumbsucking is as natural as breathing in small children. It helps make babies secure, aids them in sleeping and generally helps them adjust to their new world.
But there comes a time in every child’s life when the benefits erode to the point that continued thumbsucking can begin to effect their oral health.
Thumbsucking (or sucking on a pacifier) may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth. Pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same ways as sucking fingers and thumbs, but it is often an easier habit to break. The intensity of the sucking is a factor that determines whether or not dental problems may result. If children rest their thumbs passively in their mouths, they are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. Some aggressive thumbsuckers may develop problems with their baby (primary) teeth.
Children usually stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of 2 to 4. That’s usually before their primary teeth begin to come in. If you’re having some trouble breaking your child of the thumbsucking habit, here are a few tips that may help:
- Praise your child for not sucking.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
- For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
- Your dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
If the habit persists, you may want to consult with your pediatrician and dentist. They may be able to provide you with additional advice or means for helping break the thumbsucking habit.