Thumb Sucking Management

During the testing of pregnant women using ultrasound it was found that babies suck their thumbs even when they are in the wombs of mothers. Parents do not get worried too much about this. However, if the baby does not stop sucking its thumb for a longer time parents start getting worried about this. This FAQ gives details of the thumb-sucking behavior.

Why do children suck their thumbs?

During the early childhood the children find it comforting when they have their favourite blankets, teddy bears etc. Similarly during the sleeping time they find it comforting to suck their thumbs. In some babies the urge to suck the thumbs is much stronger than others. Children suck their thumbs when they are bored, tired or in need of comfort. Thumb-sucking children go off to sleep early and have no problems during sleep. It has been found that the percentage of infants who have thumb sucking habits varies between 75% and 95%.

What problems can it cause?

The problems caused due to prolonged thumb-sucking behavior are as follows:

  1. Buck teeth – upper front teeth become very prominent.
  2. Open bite – the teeth do not join together at the front
  3. Cross bite – the bite of the lower side teeth is outside the upper teeth
  4. Tipping back or crowding – of the lower front teeth occur.

It is not necessary that the habit of thumb-sucking causes movement of teeth in all cases. Bite changes might cause problems in chewing, swallowing and talking. Thumb-sucking children have a tendency to withdraw themselves when they suck their thumbs. This behavior might interfere with their capacity to learn and also their participation in all activities.

Should you get worried if the child has the habit of thumb sucking?

Under normal circumstances this is not a cause for getting worried too much. But it is necessary that you carefully observe the child’s habits since it could affect its oral health.

What do you consider as Normal Thumb-Sucking Behavior?

There is no uniformity in thinking on this. A large number of children start sucking their thumb or finger at a very young age. In fact some children start this when they are in the womb. Sucking is one of the natural reflexes of the baby and hence it finds comfort in sucking. The child feels secure and contented by sucking thumb, pacifiers, fingers or other objects. Many children suck their thumbs while sleeping because it gives them a sense of relaxation. The thumb-sucking behavior might not cause major problem for their milk teeth.

Pediatric and orthodontic professionals are of the opinion that this habit must cease before the child is 8 years. Majority of children overcome this habit while growing. It has been found that 45% of children aged 2-3 years suck their thumbs whereas only 5% of the children suck their thumbs at the age of 11 years. Some children give it up when they find that it is causing embarrassment to them.

When should a child discontinue this habit of thumb sucking?

Most of the children discontinue the habit of thumb sucking on their own when their age is between two and four since they find this of very little use. But there are some children who continue sucking their thumbs even when they start attending preschool. If your child is sucking his thumb when the eruption of permanent teeth occurs it is advisable that you start looking for ways and means of breaking this habit.

How will you find out whether your child’s thumb sucking habit is harmful or not?

The intensity of the sucking by the child is very important in deciding whether thumb sucking is harmful to the child or not. If your child sucks his thumb by gently keeping it in his mouth it is passive thumb sucking and will cause no harm. On the other hand, if he puts pressure on his mouth or teeth while sucking it becomes aggressive thumb sucking and this could cause problems in tooth alignment and also in the growth of his mouth. Such a situation will necessitate orthodontic treatment as he grows old.

What can I do to prevent my child to stop sucking his thumb?

You may follow the guidelines given below to help the child stop thumb sucking.

  • Praise the child whenever he stops thumb sucking. Avoid punishing the child on this account. Be positive as well as supportive.
  • Whenever a child feels insecure or needs comfort it starts sucking its thumb. Hence you must eliminate the reason that causes this anxiety and make the child feel comfortable.
  • Observe the times when the child tends to suck and divert his attention at these times.
  • If the child is old try to talk it over with the child and find a method of stopping by involving him.
  • If your child is on pacifiers you could use the Snip N’ Clip Method for getting rid of this habit. Clip the tip of the pacifier every week and the child will start losing interest in sucking it over a period of time.
  • Make your dentist to explain to the child about what happens to its teeth because of thumb sucking.
  • Lastly you could try bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on its hand or coat the thumb/ finger with a bitter medicine or use mouth appliances
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