Can Thumb Sucking Be Damaging To Your Child’s Oral Health?

When Does Thumb Sucking Start?

Thumb or other digit sucking can be a natural reflex of infancy, with some studies showing it can begin in the womb. However, it may become a habit if established after 18 months. While most children give it up on their own between the ages of 3 and 6, for a small group it becomes an ingrained persistent habit after 4 or 5 years of age. There is a risk that these children will develop serious dental and speech problems.

Before taking any measures to stop the habit it needs to be acknowledged that thumb sucking or sucking a replacement such as a soother is often an anxiety reliever for a child coping with stressful changes in their home environment. So any changes that help to relieve anxiety will improve the chances of a child making a desired behaviour change.

How Can Parents Help A Child To Stop Thumb Sucking?

With behaviour change in mind a positive encouraging approach should be used to entice a child to give up thumb-sucking. Rewards such as a special toy or giving additional time to engage in a favourite activity should be offered as encouragement to give up the habit. At this age using a puppet to influence a child can be very effective by emphasising benefits like having a nice smiling face, lovely teeth and being able to talk better.

Never shame or punish a child for thumb sucking as this will lower their self esteem. Parents should have patience and continually encourage and reward any small steps taken by a child to give up the habit. Keeping up this approach will bring about change over a period of several months so that eventually the child will phase out thumb sucking or drop using a  soother altogether and become more comfortable about growing up. 

Can a Dentist Help?

A pediatric dentist is specially trained to deal with behaviours like thumb-sucking and may use their own reward system to encourage compliance. Alternatively a small device can be constructed to prevent thumb-sucking. 

Healthy Habits For Healthy Kids

This is a good time to reintroduce healthy oral health habits for a child. Buy a few child themed coloured toothbrushes and a mild flavoured fluoride toothpaste. Demonstrate a pea sized amount of toothpaste and assist with brushing until the child is comfortable doing it themselves. Supervise this activity at least twice a day and your child will be well on the way to developing healthy oral health habits for a lifetime. 

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