Dr. Brett L. Johnson

General & Cosmetic Dentistry

Thumb-Sucking Not Always a Harmless Habit

Thumb-Sucking Not Always a Harmless Habit

For young children and babies, thumb-sucking ranks as a perfectly normal habit. Most babies suck their thumbs, while some even take it a step further to include fingers, toes, and whatever else they can get their hands on.

Whether on a body part or pacifier, a baby’s urge to suck comes from a natural need to feel comfortable in a new world that seems strangely large. While the urge to suck will typically decrease in babies after six months, infants will continue to suck their thumb well past infancy, especially in times where they feel the need for soothing. As your premiere dentist Oregon City has, Dr. Johnson and his team want to make sure you are aware of the impact thumb sucking might have.

Older children can turn to thumb-sucking as a habit used to comfort themselves whenever they experience feelings of hunger, fear, restlessness, boredom, exhaustion, or quiet. In some rare instances, children over the age of five will begin to suck their thumb as part of an emotional disorder relating to anxiety, but the major of kids kick the habit between the ages of three to five.

While thumbing sucking is a normal and healthy habit for babies and infants, the habit can pose some risk to a child’s teeth and gums when not checked at an appropriate age.

Thumb-Sucking Troubles

In kids under the age of four, thumb-sucking doesn’t represent any kind of problem, and should be consider part of a child’s natural developmental process. However, kids who continue to vigorously suck their thumbs after the age of five or six run a serious risk of suffering from future dental problems and a speech impediment.

A child who continues to such her thumb past of the age of four may cause her teeth to become incorrectly aligned or jut outward. Fortunately, these kind of developmental problems often correct themselves once the child stops sucking. However, the longer a child continues the habit, the more likely it becomes that she will need orthodontic treatment such as braces when older.

Children who develop speech problems due to thumb-sucking will experience difficulty with trying to pronounce Ds and Ts, lisping, and thrusting their tongue out when talking. Children who with these types of speech impediments may need to seek professional treatment to correct the problem.

When to Seek Treatment

Most child development experts recommend that parents ignore thumb-sucking prior to a child reach preschool age. However, there are a few exceptions when a child may need to seek treatment to control their habit. Such cases would include:

  • When hair pulling also accompanies thumb-sucking, especially in children between the ages of 12 to 24 months.
  • The child continues to habitually thumb-suck or do so with great intensity after the age of four or five. Calluses on the thumbs are one indication parents can look for of intense thumb-sucking.
  • The child asks for help to break the habit.
  • A child begins to develop a speech impediment due to the habit.
  • The child begins to feel embarrassed or starts to get teased by others due to the habit.

Talk with your dentist to determine if your child needs to seek treatment for thumb-sucking.

Treatment for Thumb-Sucking

When attempting to help your child break a thumb-sucking habit, it’s important to remember that thumb-sucking is a perfectly normal part of a child’s development. Kids suck their thumbs when they feel scared or threatened, which means any attempt to halt your child’s habit using threats or harsh language will probably only cause him to suck more often.

Instead, parents should try using positive reinforcement techniques by offering praise whenever their child resists returning to their habit. Placing gloves on a child’s hand while at home or wrapping his thumb with a gauze bandage can also serve as a reminder to a child not to place the thumb in the mouth. If you can’t make progress using at home methods to curb your child’s thumb-sucking, you may need to seek professional assistance.

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