Thumbsucking: Rules of Thumb for Parents

Thumbsucking: Rules of Thumb for Parents
Like many parents you may be concerned about your child's thumbsucking. You may wonder if it's harmful, at what age your child should stop or what could happen if your child doesn't. The information below can help  put your concerns in perspective and answer some of your questions. 

Sucking is one of a baby's natural reflexes. As infants get older, sucking serves many purposes. Infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects because it makes them feel secure and happy and helps them learn about their world. 

Young children may also suck to soothe themselves. Placing a finger or thumb into their mouth provides a sense of security at difficult periods such as after a scolding or when being separated from their parents. Since thumbsucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep. For this reason, young children often suck in the evenings or when they are tired. 

After the permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth. It can cause changes in the roof of the mouth and constriction of the upper jaw. 

1.Instead of scolding children for sucking, praise them when they are not.

2. Remember that children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure.  Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumbsucking.

3. Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.

3. Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.

4. Your dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen to the teeth if they continue.

5. If these approaches do not work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. If  the child pulls off the sock in their sleep, you may want to snugly tape the sock to the wrist so it does not come off easily.  An ACE bandage around the elbow  is another tool that has proven helpful. Your dentist or your orthodontist may recommend the use of a habit appliance that is cemented onto the  teeth.


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