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Thumb Sucking and Oral Health

For young children thumb sucking is normal but it needs to stop before their permanent teeth come through
How to stop thumb sucking

For a young child sucking the fingers or thumb is a normal behaviour and is not really a big problem when they still have their baby teeth. Children begin thumb sucking in utero before they are even born. Babies use it as a way to calm themselves and help cope with tension. Most children will stop between approximately two and four years of age when they develop other ways to comfort themselves. 

So why is thumb sucking a problem?

Children’s permanent teeth start to come through at around five or six years of age. These are the teeth they will have for the rest of their lives and they need to be looked after. Long-term thumb sucking can lead to:

  • an over bite commonly called buck teeth – this is where front teeth are pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude
  • an open bite – this is when the top and bottom teeth do not meet and there is a gap between them
  • a lisp – if a child pushes their teeth out of their normal position it can interfere with the correct formation of certain speech sounds

These problems can be addressed though expensive orthodontics and speech therapy at later stages of the child’s life but it would be best to avoid them from the start.

How do I get my child to stop?

Depending on your child’s age and ability, you might like to:

  • talk to your child – begin laying the groundwork long before you start taking action. “You know, soon you will be a big boy and may want to stop sucking your thumb” or “Do you think Pepper Pig sucks her thumb?”.
  • use praise or a hug – this encourages them to stop the habit and shows them they are doing the right thing
  • use a self awareness – gently bring your child’s attention to the times they suck their thumb and then give them an alternative
  • use a chart to monitor their progress with rewards for reaching set goals – this way the child can see the progress they are making over time and how close they are getting to their rewards
  • don’t turn it into a confrontation – when a child feels confronted they may become defensive or self conscious which will make the habit harder to stop
  • offer distractions during tv time or car rides make sure the child has a book or toy to keep their hands busy

It takes time for a child to stop the thumb sucking habit and the first few days will be the hardest period. What works with one child will not work with another so you will need to experiment and see what works for yours. It can be easy for children to fall back into old habits and it may take a few attempts to fully break the cycle. Remember that patience and consistent gentle reinforcement on your part is vital.

For more information read this article from Colgate.

Our dentists and dental hygienists are here to help. If you are struggling with thumb sucking and need further advice please call us on (03) 6231 3645.

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