Help! My child still sucks his thumb.
Thumb sucking is a fairly common habit in infants and toddlers. Even fetuses are known to suck their thumbs as early as 29 weeks in utero. More than the intensity and frequency, it’s the duration of the habit that is of concern here.
Why do kids suck their thumbs?
source of comfort and security
self-regulation of emotions
What are the harmful effects of thumb sucking habit?
Open bite in the front teeth
Narrowing of the maxilla (upper jaw)
Protrusion of upper front teeth
When to be concerned?
In most kids, thumb sucking goes away by 3 years of age but if the child is older than 3, the position of their front teeth and the bony jaw structure could change. This will lead to problems with the alignment of their teeth and jaws and may require intervention with braces or other appliances.
How to help them quit?
Reminder therapy - works in kids who are motivated to quit.
Explaining in simple terms why it’s important to quit.
Painting bitter polish on their nails.
Bandaging the arm at night and removing the bandage once the kid falls asleep.
Reward therapy - This can be used to motivate the child to quit. It could be an agreement between the dentist/caregiver and the child. Tracking the habit using a calendar helps and if the child does well they can be rewarded to encourage continued abstinence.
Appliance therapy - If reminder and reward therapies fail, an appliance can be put in the kid’s mouth which will act as a physical barrier hence a reminder that they are not supposed to suck their thumb. These appliances can cause speech issues but they only need to be in the mouth for about 6-8 months after which the habit should have disappeared.
What about pacifiers?
Pacifiers are considered less harmful than thumb sucking since it’s an easier habit to eliminate.
Replace the pacifier every few months if it’s sticky/chapped/swollen since it can harbor bacteria.
Do not dip a pacifier in sweet substances as that can cause cavities.
Do not let babies fall asleep with the pacifier in their mouths.
Work on eliminating the pacifier by age 2.
Habits can be eliminated with a lot of patience and a little TLC! Ally with your dentist to help your child get rid of their undesirable oral habits :)