Curbing Thumb Sucking – When is it Time?

Thumb SuckingIf you’ve got a kid with a thumb sucking habit, you’re a member of a not-so-elite club of concerned parents. You’ve probably heard a lot about why your kids shouldn’t suck their thumbs, but the truth is that thumb-sucking is natural, and it’s usually nothing to worry about until your child gets a little older. If you’re concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, here are a few things to consider.

Wait it Out

If your baby is sucking her thumb, there’s really no cause for concern. You can try to curb the habit by offering a pacifier instead, but you’ll soon find that parents don’t have much control over their baby’s self-soothing methods. The good news is that thumb sucking doesn’t usually cause any dental or orthodontic problems until a child’s permanent teeth begin to come in around age 5.

Children usually stop sucking a pacifier on their own around age 3 ½, and stop sucking their thumb on their own around age 4 ½. As long as your child still only has their baby teeth, you don’t need to take any action except to wait it out. Don’t encourage the habit, but don’t press them any further than gentle discouragement to quit. That will only stress them out and make them want to suck their thumb for comfort.

A Gentle Reminder

If your child is old enough to have permanent teeth coming in and is still sucking his thumb, it’s probably time to help him come up with a plan for breaking the habit. Your child is old enough now for you to explain to him how sucking his thumb can affect his dental development, and to him them that he needs to stop. Anyone who’s ever had to break a bad habit knows that this is easier said than done, but a child who wants to quit will show immediate improvement with some gentle reminders.

Your child may show improvement just by having you point out when he’s sucking his thumb. There’s no need to scold or berate, just nicely remind him of his goal. If this isn’t working, you can try painting some yucky tasting anti-thumb sucking product on his thumb to remind him to keep it out of his mouth. There are also things you can buy to place over the thumb to remind him not to suck it.

The Next Level

If your child is getting a little older, perhaps around 7 or 8, and has still not been able to kick the thumb sucking habit, it’s probably time to call in the pros. A persistent thumb sucking habit can cause an overbite, a gap in the bite, or movement in the teeth that can even affect the jaw. Ask your pediatric dentist about what they recommend you do to curb this damage.

Your dentist may refer your child to a speech therapist first off, since they are very successful at helping kids stop thumb sucking. Another option, and one that is usually a precursor to orthodontic work, is to place an apparatus that is similar to a retainer in the child’s mouth, which prevents him from comfortably sucking his thumb. This will help him break the habit and stop any continued damage to his teeth or jaw.