How to Get Your Child to Quit Thumb Sucking


Sucking is a common and healthy impulse among infants, and children often start to suck on fingers or thumbs even before birth. Though it is a natural reflex, it can become a problem when children turn to thumb sucking to soothe themselves any time they are bored, tired or upset. Toddlers will typically stop thumb sucking between the ages of two and four. If persists after a child is four-years-old, you may need to assist them in breaking the habit, as it can lead to permanent dental problems if continued after the age of six.

Below is a list of dental problems often associated with thumb sucking:

  • Buck teeth – Thumb sucking can push new and developing permanent teeth out of normal position, when they begin to grow in. This can alter the shape of the face and lead to an open bite. It can also require expensive orthodontics to correct.
  • Development of a Lisp
  • The misalignment of front teeth can create the inability to form certain speech sounds, which can cause children to speak with a lisp.
  • Improper growth of child’s palate
  • Sucking on the fingers or thumbs can affect the growth of the roof of the mouth, leading to poor tongue placement and problems chewing and swallowing.

Tips to help your child break the habit before dental problems occur:

  • Provide gentle reminders
  • Sometimes your child may be thumb sucking without realizing it. Quietly remind them to stop or do so with a visual cue, as it is important to avoid embarrassing or criticizing. Decide on a cue with them to get them involved in the process..
  • Ignore it
  • If your child is using thumb sucking to get attention, try paying no mind to them and it may be enough to stop the problem.
  • Identify the triggers
  • Thumb sucking is often used as a soothing mechanism when a child is feeling anxious or insecure. Focus on what is causing the anxiety and provide your child with other means of comfort, such as reassuring words or a stuffed animal to squeeze.
  • Encourage and reward your child
  • Praise your child for not thumb sucking, and recognize that they have made the choice to end this habit. Show them their progress by keeping track of the days that they have successfully avoided sucking.

Thumb sucking is a natural coping mechanism for babies, but as children grow older, this reflex can cause dental and speech problems that may need to be corrected with expensive braces or speech therapy. The trick is to work with your child to decrease their dependency on thumb sucking before this coping skill becomes a habit. For further questions or oral advice on helping your child stop thumb sucking, consult your pediatric dentist.

Dr. Veronica

Author Dr. Veronica

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