Thumb Sucking Problems • How to Stop Thumb Sucking Habit
Thumb Sucking

What is Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking (and finger sucking) is one of the most common habits during childhood. Some children suck their thumb for safety even before birth.

While babies use sucking in order to get nutrition, they experience certain pleasurable sensations, associated with the fulfillment from food and tenderness.

Thumb sucking can cause serious orthodontic problems if it is continued after the age of 3-4 years.

Dental Problems caused by Thumb Sucking Effects

Having the thumb among the teeth for a prolonged periods puts the teeth and the underlying jaw bone under constant pressure. This pressure can seriously affect the proper development of the jaw bone and move teeth out of their correct position. The permanent teeth developing under the primary teeth may also be affected.

If the child doesn't stop thumb sucking in time, it is possible some teeth to get misplaced, crowded or crooked. In many cases, orthodontic treatment (dental braces) is required to correct these teeth problems.

The child may also develop speech problems or problems with swallowing properly. Protrusion and displacement of front teeth are usual results of thumb sucking. This can affect the child's appearance and cause further emotional problems.

Causes of Thumb Sucking

For babies, thumbsucking can be just a way to relieve the feeling of hunger. About 70% to 90% of infants are sucking their thumb, but most of them gradually stop on their own between ages 3 and 6.

Trying to explain the causes of thumb sucking in children, psychologists suggest that some children look for a way to continue the once necessary and pleasantly soothing experience of nutritional sucking, thus forming the thumb or other finger sucking habits. Sucking their thumb becomes for some children a substitute for comfort, pleasure, and safety.

In other cases it is nothing more than a habit, sometimes established even before birth, with no underlying causes. But if you notice that the habit becomes more intense whenever the child feels that his security is threatened, then the causes of thumb sucking are clearly emotional.

When Thumb Sucking Becomes a Problem?

Thumb sucking is considered a normal habit for babies up to the age of 3 years. However, it may cause serious teeth problems if it continues after the age of four or five. The problem gets even more serious if it continues long after the eruption of permanent teeth.

In some cases thumbsucking is substituted by another dangerous habit of placing pencils between the teeth or biting the lips.

If a baby shows a strong tendency to thumbsucking, it is preferable to encourage the substitution of finger sucking habits by a pacifier habit, since it is easier to stop it later.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Easy ways to get kids to stop sucking their thumb

Parents often start to worry too early (or too late), about how to stop thumb sucking habit of their children. It is advised that you do not try to make a child to stop thumb sucking before the age of four (unless you notice a problem to teeth due to vigorous thumbsucking) because it might have the opposite results.

Normally children stop the habit on their own, by that age. If they don't, here are some easy ways to get kids to stop thumbsucking :

    • Keep the child's hands occupied with a toy, puzzle or other activity.
    • Carefully remove your child's thumb from his or her mouth during sleep.
    • Give the example of his friends that have managed to stop thumbsucking.
    • Don't put the child in a state of anxiety or fear. If the child has any emotional problems, or is under stress and needs comforting, you may need to resolve those issues first before your child can succesfully stop thumb-sucking.
    • Talk about the 'bad' germs that are on our hands and how the child puts them in his or her mouth while thumb sucking.
    • Avoid punishing or shaming the child.
    • Reward the child for not thumbsucking for a progressively increasing time period.
    • Ask the advice of a pediatric dentist. He will explain to your kid what will happen to the teeth if the child does not stop sucking its thumb.
    • Use a thumb sucking guard. - In difficult cases, your dentist might suggest the use of special devices to stop thumb sucking, called thumb guards. A thumb guard is a device with a plastic cover of the thumb that is attached to a child's wrist. The thumb sucking guard interrupts the process by breaking the vacuum created by sucking, thus removing the child's pleasure. Treatment with thumb guards usually lasts four weeks and helps children to stop thumb sucking succesfully.
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