For many children, thumb sucking or pacifier use is a normal, happy part of their development. (In fact, as some parents-to-be witness during prenatal ultrasounds, babies may begin sucking on their fingers or thumbs while still in the womb!) The act of sucking soothes young children, providing a sense of security and, in most cases, is nothing to worry about. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers, or other objects on their own between the ages of two and four.
When children continue these habits over time, however, the issue becomes problematic. Prolonged thumb sucking and/or pacifier usage may cause the upper front teeth to tilt towards the lip (aka “buck teeth”), or interfere with the proper development of permanent teeth. Over time, the habit may also change the size and shape of the child’s palate. Long-time, habitual thumb suckers may also experience teasing from classmates or peers.
So, what can you to do stop the sucking? Before panicking, remember that most children stop sucking habits on their own. If he or she does not, enlist the help of your pediatric dentist. (That’s us!) Once the child is old enough to understand the potential ramifications of sucking, our staff at Island Children’s Dentistry can work with parents to explain to the child what can happen to their teeth and jaws if they continue sucking. In severe cases, a mouth appliance may be recommended. A recent article in Parents Magazine also suggests focusing on what the child can do instead of sucking his or her thumb—counting her teeth by touching each with her tongue, twirling her thumbs, etc.
Finally, remember that breaking any sort of bad habit is hard work. Support and encourage your child, and do your best to remain patient. For more information or if you have specific questions pertaining to your child’s sucking habit, contact us at (703) 790-1320.