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Thumb-Sucking: Why and How to End It

January 11, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — shinysmiles @ 2:48 pm
older child who needs to stop thumb-sucking

They grow so fast. Your little baby isn’t an infant or even a toddler anymore. In fact, they’re now a child! They can talk and do more tasks independently, and some habits they had as a baby aren’t beneficial for them anymore. More specifically, thumb-sucking can actually become harmful for a growing child. Keep reading to learn more about this habit and how to transition your child out of it!

Why Thumb-Sucking Matters

At a certain point, thumb-sucking can become a problem for your child’s oral development. With a thumb in the way, primary teeth can’t erupt fully or be properly aligned, and the jaw may also be affected as it grows. As a result, your child may require orthodontic treatment to correct their bite and jaw formation because of prolonged thumb-sucking.

Understanding Why Your Child Sucks Their Thumb

Before you begin trying to break this habit, it’s important to grasp why your child is doing it in the first place. At birth, infants have the instinct to suck for both nutritive and non-nutritive purposes. In other words, they feel the need to suck—and not just for drinking milk.

It can be soothing and calming, which is why many babies like having a pacifier or sucking their thumb particularly around nap or bedtime. In addition, this habit can also come up when a child is bored.

When to Stop Thumb-Sucking

At a young age, your baby or toddler can suck their thumb freely without you having to worry about their oral development. Even if your child is still doing it into toddlerhood, it still may not be a serious concern yet. However, around four years old is usually a good age to end this self-soothing habit.

How to Stop Thumb-Sucking

Whenever you decide to put an end to your child’s thumb-sucking, stay positive and caring throughout the process. If necessary, you can introduce other ways of soothing, such as hugging a stuffed toy or cuddling a blanket, instead of sucking their thumb.  Use positive reinforcement (i.e., praise) to encourage healthier habits.

Many kids do better when they can visually keep track of their progress with something like a sticker chart. When they reach a particular goal, you may want to give them a small, non-food reward. Throughout the day, try to keep their hands busy with activities, so they don’t resort to sucking their thumb out of boredom.

When to Seek Help

In some situations, you may need to talk to your pediatric dentist, who likely has helped many kids overcome thumb-sucking. In addition to other tips and strategies, they may recommend an oral appliance called a thumb crib as a last option. This temporary oral appliance doesn’t allow your child to suck their thumb, teaching them to not use this habit for self-soothing.

Although it can be difficult to accept that your baby is growing up, they may need to stop thumb-sucking to avoid more complex problems later on in life.

About the Author

As a pediatric dentist, board-certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Lily is also an active member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as well as the Texas Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. She is a mother of two boys and enjoys learning about each patient’s personality and goals. Whenever possible, she uses preventive, conservative care to address problems before they become larger ones later in the patient’s life. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lily at Shiny Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, visit our Contact Us page or call 469-925-0861.

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