Breaking the Habit of Thumb Sucking

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young girl sleeping and sucking her thumb

Thumb sucking is one of the ways a child can soothe and comfort themselves. However, persistent thumb or finger sucking beyond a certain age can cause a significant tooth misalignment or lead to a jaw deformation.

The habit of thumb sucking can be resolved with parental supervision and gentle strategies to quit.

The Negative Consequences of Finger Sucking

If your thumb or finger-sucking child is over the age of 3, it’s recommended to break the habit as soon as possible. The degree of disruption depends on several factors, such as how forceful the habit is, how often the fingers are sucked, and the age of your child.

Negative consequences that have a significant impact on the body from thumb sucking include:

  • Germs – Thumb and finger sucking spreads germs because the hands are used so often to perform everyday tasks. Touching a germ-covered object and then immediately inserting the thumb or finger into the mouth makes your child more susceptible to germs and illness.
  • Shifting Teeth – The sucking motion pushes teeth forward and can quickly move teeth into misalignment, which leads to a need for braces.
  • Teasing – After a certain age, children begin to realize that not everyone sucks their thumb or fingers, which will make your child vulnerable to teasing from other kids.
  • Speech – Many thumb and finger sucking children have a gap between their upper and lower teeth and their jaw development has changed. This often causes problems with speech development as the tongue muscles also do not develop correctly. Making speech sounds like “s” and “th” can become difficult.

How Finger Sucking Effects Teeth

Protrusive Upper Teeth

Occasionally, the formation of the jaw can be affected, and the upper jaw and teeth will develop in a protrusive relationship to the rest of the face. This can be a simple tooth position problem, where the upper incisor teeth are tipped forward, or a more severe situation.

Tipped Back Lower Front Teeth

The thumb forces a significant amount of pressure onto the lower incisor teeth to tip towards the tongue.

Open Bite

The shape of the opening between the upper and lower front teeth may match the child’s finger or thumb exactly and can cause the upper and lower front teeth not to overlap when the back teeth are together.

Crossbite

The upper jaw can become too narrow for the lower jaw, leading to the upper and lower teeth not fitting together in proper formation. A crossbite occurs as a result of the flexing of the cheek muscles during sucking.

Have a Conversation About Thumb Sucking

Always start by talking to your child about why thumb sucking is a bad habit. Talking alone doesn’t usually break the habit, but it can help your child decide that he or she wants to quit and is ready. Positive motivation to quit is half the battle, so explain to your child how thumb sucking can affect their teeth. Encourage something else for them to do instead of thumb sucking when the urge to put their fingers in their mouth comes on.

Find Your Child’s Favorite Thumb-Sucking Times

Watching TV and sleeping are two common times when kids fall back into their sucking habits. Identify your child’s problem times and then have your child help you devise a quitting plan that focuses on these specific times. If bedtime tends to be the problem, try putting socks on hands before bed. If TV time is the problem, attempt negative reinforcement by turning off the TV for 5 or 10 minutes every time your child is caught sucking.

Offer a substitute for times of stress

Does your child suck their thumb when they’re upset or stressed? Take the time to aid in calming your child with a cuddle or comforting words. You can also bring your child a stuffed animal or another comfort piece as a trade-off for finger sucking.

Don’t Give Up – We Can Help!

Having a dentist or orthodontist talk to your child about how thumb sucking can have an adverse effect on their bite may have more of an impact than a talk with you. Thomas Orthodontics can also fit your child for a special mouth guard to help prevent thumb sucking if nothing else has worked.

Every child is different, and there is no one right way to stop thumb sucking. The biggest mistake you can make as a parent is to wait too long to break the habit, so help your child take steps to stop thumb sucking as soon as possible.

 

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