Does your child suck his or her thumb? Are you wondering whether to be concerned or not? Many parents may not understand why children suck their thumbs or other fingers, but it is actually a very common reflex in young children. In fact, statistics indicate that 45% of 2 and 3-year-olds have developed this habit.
Thumb-sucking is a natural reflex for infants and young children. Sucking on things such as thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers often help kids feel secure and happy. It is often relaxing and may induce sleep. It is completely normal for children to suck their thumbs, and they usually quit sometime between the ages two and four.
Effects on Teeth
Thumb-sucking becomes problematic to dental health once the child starts developing the permanent teeth. It can cause changes in the roof of the mouth and it will also affect proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of teeth.
Effects can include:
- Reshaping of the jawbone
- Misalignment of teeth
- Teeth growing out of position
- Protruding front teeth
- An open bite, where the back teeth touch when biting down, but the front teeth do not, causing the bite to not completely close
- Poor tongue placement/movement
- Speech impediments
- Narrower dental arches
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
Whether or not your child develops problems from thumb-sucking or not often depends on the intensity of sucking. Passive suckers, who just simply rest their thumb in their mouth, may not develop any problems at all. Aggressive suckers, however, often will experience dental issues, maybe even in their baby teeth.
Breaking the Habit
Most children simply grow out of the habit. Usually this happens sometime between the ages of two and four. By the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt, children should have stopped sucking their thumbs.
If your child sucks his or her thumb and it is posing a concern, the ADA suggests these tips to help encourage your child to stop.
- Praise your child for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they do
- If your child is sucking in order to seek comfort, focus on correcting the source of anxiety instead of the habit.
- You can remind the child of their bad habit by somehow covering the thumb, such as with Band-Aids or a sock.
- Your pediatrician or dentist may be able to provide further encouragement. They can also prescribe something to apply to the thumb to give it a bad taste.
While thumb-sucking for infants is completely natural and not a concern, continued sucking into their later years could pose several problems. If thumb sucking does result in crooked teeth, abnormal bite, or deformed jaw, it can take years of orthodontic treatment to correct. Not to mention, orthodontics is very expensive, and could cost up to thousands of dollars if you don’t have a dental plan. Encouraging your children to quit sucking their thumb and avoid a dental crisis is the best option.