Thumb-sucking is a pretty common habit among young kids. In fact, nearly 90% of babies start to suck on their thumb or other part of their hand within two hours of birth. Most kids stop sucking their thumbs on their own by the age of two and will not experience any negative repercussions. But aggressive thumb-sucking that doesn’t stop on its own should be monitored, and parents may want to take steps to help their kids overcome their thumb-sucking habit.

Why do kids have a thumb-sucking habit past babyhood?

Like we said earlier, thumb-sucking is pretty common, and it is actually a natural habit, as all babies are born with the need to suck. The act of thumb-sucking often starts in the womb and can offer a sense of comfort and security for a new baby. When a baby is hungry, their natural inclination is to suck, and the thumb is readily accessible.

As the baby gets older, thumb-sucking becomes increasingly more familiar than the world around them. Thumb-sucking continues to provide that sense of comfort and security, and as always, is readily accessible in their time of need. And while thumb-sucking is fine when a child is young, it can cause issues as the child gets older. Thumb-sucking can cause misalignment of the baby teeth and can even increase their risks for cavities.

Prevent orthodontic issues later by helping your child overcome their thumb-sucking habit now.

Though there are mixed opinions out there as to when your child should stop sucking their thumb, experts agree that children should stop no later than age five. And ideally, kids should stop their thumb-sucking habit around age three. Thumb-sucking that goes on longer than this can lead to the following orthodontic issues.

1. Teeth Alignment Issues

Sucking on a thumb or finger can make the upper front teeth shift forward. And, pressure from the hand in the mouth can also cause the lower teeth to lean forward.

2. Jaw Issues

Thumb sucking can cause a misalignment in the shape of your child’s jaw, as the upper jaw can begin to narrow, no longer aligning with the bottom jaw.

3. Speech Issues

Thumb-sucking can cause an inability to pronounce the s and z sounds. Without proper speech therapy and orthodontic treatment, these speech issues can later develop into a lisp.

4. Change to Facial Shape

When kids suck their thumbs or fingers, it can cause an overbite which can change the overall look and shape of their face. Orthodontic treatment is often required to reverse these changes.

How do I help my child overcome their thumb-sucking habit?

Now that you understand what causes thumb-sucking and the orthodontic issues that thumb-sucking can cause, it is time to understand how to help your child wean themselves from the habit. The key to success is positive reinforcement and patience throughout the process.

Parents must understand that thumb-sucking offers their children comfort, and the weaning process requires them to find something else that offers them that same reward. This can be a scary and uncomfortable process for kids. By practicing patience and demonstrating unrelenting enthusiasm and positivity throughout the process, parents and kids are far more likely to achieve the desired outcome faster.

1. Help your child notice when they place their thumb or fingers in their mouth.

Often, kids do this subconsciously. Helping them to be aware of their actions is a great way to help them overcome their thumb-sucking habit.

2. Work with your child on a reward system.

They can receive an agreed-on reward for achieving a certain period of time without sucking their thumb or finger. For younger kids, reward them for shorter durations of time, and for older kids, longer durations of time. Consider a sticker chart, and let your child select a larger prize after earning so many stickers.

3. Avoid stressful situations as much as possible.

Remember, thumb-sucking is a comfort mechanism for your child, just like reaching for a piece of chocolate might be for you. If your child is experiencing stress, help them to identify the root cause of their stress, and work to reassure them with a hug or some positive and reassuring words. Offer them a favorite stuffie, pillow, or comforting blankie as an alternative to their thumb or finger.

4. Keep kids occupied.

Sometimes, kids suck their thumbs out of boredom. So, if they have something to do, especially something to do with their hands, they are less likely to feel the urge to pop that thumb or finger into their mouth. Get them outsize playing, pull out a puzzle, or even play a video game together. The longer you can keep your child engaged and not thinking about sucking on their thumb, the longer they will be able to go without feeling the urge.

5. A glove can be exceptionally useful.

A glove is great for extreme cases of thumb-sucking and finger-sucking. If you have exhausted other efforts and you are concerned about misaligned teeth or a misaligned jaw and just want to protect those baby teeth, try placing gloves on your child’s hands during the day. If they can’t get at their fingers, they are less likely to put them in their mouth.

Overcoming a thumb-sucking habit isn’t easy. Let the team at We Make Kids Smile help.

For many kids, thumb-sucking and finger-sucking is a hard habit to break. But don’t fret. Be patient and use positive reinforcement and encouragement. And, keep in mind that the last time you looked, you probably didn’t see any adults around you still sucking their thumbs (at least not in public). So, this phase will surely pass, and the team at We Make Kids Smile is here to help as your Prince Frederick and Waldorf Pediatric dentistry partners.

If you are concerned about the impact of thumb-sucking on your kid’s baby teeth, request an appointment and we’ll be happy to take a look. We can then partner with you and your child on mitigation strategies and orthodontic recommendations to help protect your child’s smile. We look forward to meeting you.

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