How to Stop Thumb Sucking
How important is it to break your child of the thumb sucking habit? There are many theories regarding how much you should worry about it, the potential impact that it could have on your child's mouth, and if it causes irreversible damage.
The reality is that thumb sucking is a normal activity that usually ends by the time your child is around two years old and will not have an impact on their mouths if the habit concludes at this age. However, if it is allowed to go un-checked much beyond this point, there may be issues that impact your child.
Thumb sucking often starts in the womb and has been detected through sonograms in fetuses as young as 20 weeks old. The activity serves to make babies feel happy and secure in general, and certainly during times of stress. The natural rooting reflex of newborns is a survival impulse that helps them locate their mothers nipple in order to feed. If this impulse occurs when fingers are in the proximity of the mouth, a thumb sucking habit may develop.
Thumb sucking that goes unchecked once adult teeth begin to erupt may cause problems with the normal growth of teeth and the development of a correctly shaped palate. Those who suck more intensely than others seem to impart greater damage to their mouths by forcing top teeth outward, causing palate malformation, and even damaging nerves in their thumbs.
How to Stop Thumb Sucking
As with any aspect of parenting, you will do yourself and your child a big favor if you avoid entering in to a power struggle with them. For best results, try the following:
- Positive Reinforcement - watch for times when your child isn't sucking their thumbs and be sure to praise them for not doing it. Although they may not have been consciously trying not to suck their thumb at the time, you are herding them in the right direction by reinforcing desired behavior
- Help Resolve Times of Stress - A thumb sucking session will begin during a time of stress and upset. Try to foresee when this might occur and try to avoid situations that may trigger these emotions
- Involvement in the Solution - Identify several approaches to stopping the habit for your child and involve them in selecting the one they wish to use. This helps your child feel more in control of the process.
- Use Your Dentist - to help you explain to your child the impact that thumb sucking may have on their mouths through the use of photographs and models
- If all Else Fails - consider researching one of the many aids on the market that you can purchase to help with the job. Your pediatrician or pediatric dentist may prescribe a bitter medication used on the thumb to dissuade sucking, or install a mouth appliance to disallow sucking.
While we have presented several ways how to stop thumb sucking, the probability is that it will go away on its own by the time your child reached two years of age. If they are still engaging in it by the time they reach three years of age, you should start taking some sort of action to stop it.
Take a look at our free oral healthcare guide below for taking care of your teeth.
Photo Credit: Carlos.a.Martinez