Thumbsucking is a natural response for infants and children, but the longer they commit to the habit, the higher the likelihood that the comfort technique could affect their oral health. Now, this isn’t to say that you need to remove all the pacifiers and pull their thumbs out of their mouth as soon as they transition away from breastfeeding or a bottle, but you should stay educated about how thumbsucking can affect their teeth. That’s the focus of today’s blog.
How Does Thumbsucking Affect A Kid’s Teeth?
Thumbsucking creates suction and forces inside your child’s mouth that can be applied to their developing teeth. It can also cause changes to the roof of their mouth. It is not of grave concern when kids are sucking their thumbs before or while their primary (baby) teeth are coming in, but if you notice that any of their primary teeth are crooked or seem to be changing direction, talk to your dentist.
Another thing to keep an eye on is how intensely your child sucks their thumb. If they are gently or passively sucking on their thumb of mouthing on a finger, it’s not as much of an issue as children who suck hard. Hard thumbsuckers are more likely to have problems with their primary teeth, but as long as they regularly see a dentist and you work to break the habit, there’s a good chance that thumbsucking won’t affect your child’s permanent teeth.
When Do Children Stop Sucking Their Thumb?
Thumbsucking is a completely natural habit, and it helps to calm and soothe children. Many children suck on their thumbs to help them fall asleep. Most children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four, which is also well before permanent teeth begin to come in (around the age of 6-7). With that said, many children need a little push to get past the thumbsucking phase, so parents should be proactive in helping them break the habit when the time comes.
Some ways to work to break the habit of thumbsucking or pacifer use include:
- Encourage your child not to suck their thumb, and praise them for not sucking their thumb.
- Because it can help to form a sense of security, work to correct any causes of anxiety that may be contributing to the need to want to suck their thumb (overstimulation, fear, etc.)
- Create an activity and involve your child in choosing a method for ending the habit (Reward for not sucking, have them donate pacifiers to other babies since they are a “big kid” now, find other comfort/coping accessories like a blanket or stuffed animal).
- Ask your dentist for additional tips and tricks to end the habit.
If these techniques don’t work, you can try to put a bandage or glove on your child’s hands at night to break the habit. Some doctors and dentists can also recommend or prescribe topical agents that are applied to the thumb that taste bitter so the child does not want to put their thumb in their mouth.
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There are a number of different ways to break the habit of thumbsucking, and don’t be discougaged if you have some difficulty ending the habit. Breaking the habit at the appropriate age can help to ensure your child’s teeth have the best chance to come in straight and avoid problems. For more information, or to talk to a dentist about your child’s teeth, reach out to Dr. Brooks today.