Sucking is literally a life-sustaining force when a baby is born. That impulse to suck is what allows an infant to nurse or have a bottle. Thumb sucking by extension can also be a way that babies self-soothe when they are fussy, tired or bored. However, if thumb sucking or the use of a pacifier continues beyond the ages of two to four, then it can lead to dental problems. As your Leesburg family dentist, I’d like to help you help your child break the habit. Please read on to learn about the consequences of long-term thumb sucking and how to help your child stop.
The Problem with Thumb Sucking
Here are some of the oral and dental health problems that your child may develop as a result of sucking his or her thumb.
- A thumb sucker puts pressure on the inner side of their upper front teeth, which can lead to bucked teeth. This has the potential to change the shape of their face or lead to bite problems that require orthodontics later.
- Your child may develop a lisp as a result of thumb sucking. Misaligned front teeth caused by thumb sucking can make certain sounds difficult to pronounce. As a result, your child may speak with a lisp.
- Prolonged thumb sucking may even start to reshape your child’s palate—the roof of the mouth—causing it to narrow, which can lead to problems with chewing and swallowing, as well as teeth alignment.
Stop the Thumb Sucking Habit
The first thing I have to say about helping your child kick the habit of sucking his or her thumb or a pacifier is be patient, be gentle and never embarrass your child. You will eventually throw away a pacifier, but that thumb cannot be disposed. You’re better off using gentle reminders and working with cues from your child. For example, if you notice that your daughter or son sucks their thumb out of boredom, then offer them another activity to keep their hands busy such as coloring.
Sometimes, sucking is brought on by fatigue. In that case, you may be able to adjust your child’s nap and bedtime in order to get ahead of the urge to suck. If your daughter sucks her thumb to get your attention, simply ignore the habit and distract her with another activity such as reading a book or a trip to the park.
There are also some treatments and devices that can be used to help resolve a thumb sucking habit. Some children have found it helpful to apply a bitter tasting substance to the thumb or wear an apparatus on the thumb that prohibits the thumb from fitting snuggly onto their palate. Intra-orally, an appliance called a crib can also be custom made to attach to the child’s teeth. It has a smooth wire grill that sits behind the upper front teeth to block the space where the thumb would go. When a child is trying to stop sucking their thumb, these techniques can be very helpful in achieving that goal.
Contact Our Office
As your family dentist in Leesburg, I’m always here to help you through any stage of your child’s dental development. Please call my office if you need more tips to help your child kick the thumb sucking habit or if you need to schedule one of their dental checkups.