You may be concerned about your child’s thumbsucking and wonder if it is harmful, at what age your child should stop, or what could happen if your child doesn’t stop.
Children suck on things because sucking is a natural reflex and as infants get older the sucking "sensation" can serve many purposes. Sucking a thumb or finger or pacifier or anything within reach can make a baby feel secure and happy. Young children may also suck to soothe themselves and it can help induce sleep.
But over time sucking can cause problems with the alignment of the teeth as well as cause changes to the roof of the mouth.
The length and the intensity of the sucking are two main factor that determines the severity of the dental problems that may result. For example, If a child just rests their thumb passively in their mouths, he or she is less likely to develop problems in contrast to a child who vigorously sucks a thumb or other item. Regardless, If you detect changes in your child’s teeth you should consult your dentist to evaluate the specific situation.
As a rule of "thumb", children should have ceased sucking by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt typically by age 5 or 6. Most children stop sucking their thumb between the ages of two and four years.
TIPS TO STOP THUMB SUCKING
- It is important to praise children for not sucking, rather than to scold them when they are.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or when they are needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
- For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
- In our office, our philosophy is to offer encouragement to a child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
If the above tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. There are also over-the-counter paint-on bitter medications to coat the thumb as a deterrent.
We have also found the book "David Decides" written about ideas to stop thumbsucking can be effective in stopping thumb sucking in children. This book is readily available at bookstores and on line at sites like Amazon.com