How To Stop A Thumb Sucking Habit

Posted on April 30, 2022 | Hot Topics | Orthodontics

How To Stop A Thumb Sucking Habit

Children are born with an innate sucking reflex that often lends itself to a comfort behavior over time. Often, an infant or young child will suck a finger or thumb when they are tired or upset as a way to comfort themselves. Even though their sucking reflex goes away around four months old, some children will continue to suck their thumb as a way to soothe. Thumb sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood as it provides a sense of security and often helps children fall asleep. 

You may have heard that prolonged thumb sucking can cause damage to the mouth that would require orthodontic treatment to reverse. Most children stop sucking their thumb around ages two to four with little to no damage to their mouth, according to the American Dental Association. However, children who suck their thumb or finger vigorously, and past the age of four, are in risk of causing damage to their mouth that will need orthodontic treatment. This is caused by the thumb or finger putting extra pressure on the teeth, bone, and soft tissue in the mouth causing problems with teeth positioning and growth of the jaw. 

Consequences of A Thumb Sucking Habit

Some of the consequences of the persistent thumb or finger sucking habit are:

  • Pushing the upper front teeth out and the lower teeth in. This results in the “Bucky Beaver” smile.
  • Narrowing of the soft tissue in the palate of the mouth. This results in a crossbite. 
  • Stopping the lower jaw from developing normally. This results in a recessive or weak chin. 
  • Preventing the front teeth from erupting all the way together. This causes an openbite. 

Orthodontists can place an orthodontic appliance in a child’s mouth to stop thumb sucking if they do not stop thumb sucking on their own . The orthodontic appliance will take away the pleasing sensation that a child gets when they are sucking their finger or thumb. We will always encourage a child to stop sucking their thumb or finger on their own before we recommend placing an orthodontic appliance to aid in that process. 

Ideas To Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb

We know that stopping a damaging thumb sucking habit after the age of five can be incredibly difficult for a child. It’s just as difficult for them as it is for an adult to stop a cigarette smoking habit. Here are a few tips from us at Blossom that can help parents proactively encourage their children in stopping their thumb sucking habit. 

  1. Explain to your child how damaging the habit can be. Children today are more visual than ever; pictures of buck teeth can go a long way in educating them on what could happen. They’re smarter than you think!
  2. Setup a calendar with a rewards system. Offer them a reward at the end of each week if they’ve achieved their goal. Make the reward well worth the hard work and emotional stress of stopping a persistent habit.
  3. Offer praise instead of criticism. Children often respond better to praise instead of criticism so instead of reminding them to stop the habit, proactively praise them when they are decreasing their habit.
  4. If you notice they are relapsing, work on alleviating the stress or anxiety that is causing them to react, instead of the behavior itself.

Even though the habit may be stopped at an early age, orthodontic treatment may be needed to correct any damage caused before stopping the habit. It’s now your job as the parent to be proactive as it pertains to your child’s long term dental health. Have your child checked by an orthodontist by age seven to determine if early orthodontic intervention is needed to reverse any skeletal growth problems caused by a finger or thumb sucking habit. Contact our office to schedule an initial examination.

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