Thumbsucking is quite normal among young children, as it is a natural reflex that can help babies feel secure and at ease. It serves as a coping mechanism and can help children feel more confident. However, thumbsucking is also something that you’ll want to discourage before the age of five because it can negatively impact the development of the mouth and how your child’s teeth are aligned.
Luckily, there are ways you can break your child’s habit to eliminate any problems that could arise from thumbsucking. Below, we’ll look at the dangers of thumbsucking, why children do it and what you can do to stop it.
Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Thumbsucking is a normal reflex for babies and children that can start while still in the womb. It is a habit that can occur for a number of reasons, but it largely serves as a way to relax and soothe children in their early years, even helping them feel confident enough to explore the world around them more.
Most children grow out of the thumbsucking habit, but for others, it can even continue into early elementary-age years. While thumbsucking can persist until about the age of four before causing any complications, it’s best that this is a habit that is addressed sooner rather than later.
How Can Thumbsucking Harm Teeth?
If thumbsucking continues to around six years of age, it can have a big impact on the formation of your child’s teeth, as well as the structure of their jaw. Thumbsucking — along with pacifier use — can cause a series of problems, including:
- Deformed and misaligned teeth
- Improper growth of the mouth
- Changes to the roof of the mouth
- Lisps and speech problems
- Abnormal tongue rest
- Altered breathing patterns
Misaligned teeth are one of the most noticeable effects of thumbsucking, with children often developing an “open” bite with teeth jutting outward when they still suck their thumbs when baby teeth begin to erupt. Sucking thumbs can also cause the mouth to form incorrectly, with the roof of the mouth, known as the palate, often developing structural deformities due to continued thumbsucking.
These problems aren’t just tied to sucking the thumb, they can also arise from sucking on pacifiers and other fingers. The effects can vary in severity, with children who suck their thumb more intensely often experiencing more severe problems relating to their thumbsucking.
Fortunately, there are ways you can encourage — not discourage — your child from sucking their them to promote healthy development of the mouth and teeth.
How To Stop Thumbsucking
The important thing about thumbsucking is the need to use positive reinforcement and techniques to get your child to abandon the habit. Discouragement and scolding can often make the problem worse since thumbsucking is a way that children cope with stress and anxiety.
There are a few things you can do to get your child to stop thumbsucking:
- Give your child praise for not sucking their thumb
- Address the issues that cause stress, anxiety and fear in your child
- Consult a dentist to educate your child about thumbsucking
- Create a reward system to encourage your child to stop
Many children will grow out of thumbsucking before these tactics are necessary, but others will need the extra encouragement to drop the habit. Both are completely normal, and as long as your child stops sucking their thumb by around the age of five, there likely won’t be any major effects from thumbsucking.
If you have any questions about thumbsucking, contact our office for more information. We’ll be happy to help you and your child with any concerns you may have.