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Aug10

2020

Thumb Sucking. The Good,the Bad, and the Normal

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Child sucking thumb at taree dental care

Did you know that your child’s thumb sucking can cause issues with their teeth and jaw?  We see quite a bit of it in our Taree Dental Care practice with protruding teeth and problems with a kid’s bite when thumb sucking has gone on for too long.  

 Why do some children suck their thumb?

Being able to suck from the moment they’re born is an essential survival skill to help babies feed. This is why babies have evolved a sucking reflex which can even be seen while a baby is still in utero.

Up until the age of about four months a baby will suck just about anything placed in their mouth.

Thumb sucking is generally accepted to be a calming or self-soothing habit, which most children give up in their own due course around the ages of two to four years.

However, if thumb sucking continues later into the teeth-forming years it can cause teeth and jaw issues.

When should my child stop sucking their thumb?

Thumb sucking is perfectly normal in young children and most will naturally stop on their own by the age of four. However, if your child continues to suck their thumb or other fingers beyond this age it is time to look at solutions.

It is thought by some experts that thumb sucking doesn’t become a major issue until adult teeth start erupting around the age of eight. However, the earlier you nip thumb and finger sucking in the bud the less likely your child is to develop later problems. 

What are the consequences of thumb sucking

Most thumb sucking is completely harmless and has no lasting effects. The degree of damage done to the teeth and jaw depends on the frequency, length and strength of thumb sucking.

Some of the consequences of thumb sucking include protruding upper front teeth, or overbite;  back-tilting lower front teeth from strong thumb sucking; and open bite where front lower and upper teeth don’t make contact on biting; crossbite; possible palate damage; and more rarely speech issues or a lisp.

How can you stop your child from sucking their thumb?

While most children stop thumb sucking on their own, others require extra encouragement. Thumb sucking is frequently a comforting or soothing action used by a child, so it is important to consider the reasons behind their thumb sucking rather than just trying to break the habit. Kindness, patience and positive reinforcement is the best path to helping your child give up thumb sucking.

There are techniques to discourage thumb sucking such as being aware of the triggers – such as fear, anxiety, distress.   And then finding other ways of comforting your child, use toys or games as distractions when they suck their thumb, or consider other deterrents like band-aids, gloves or thumb guards. 

What help is available?

If you’re feeling unsure, talk to your dentist about your child’s thumb sucking. At Taree Dental Care we have  seen this hundreds of times before and while it may feel like your child will never stop sucking their thumb, there are lots of things you can do, and with your help, they will quit eventually.

 But above all, don’t stress.  And remember the thumb sucking habit is healthy in infants, toddlers and even pre-schoolers. It simply serves as a coping and comfort mechanism that is part of normal development.

If you have any concerns about  your child’s thumb sucking habit and its potential impact on their teeth, please give us a call on 6550 0960 or drop us an email info@tareedentalcare.com.au. 

Talking to us is the best option – and rest assured we will look after you and your family.

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