Kicking the Habit
posted: Oct. 09, 2019.
Is thumbsucking really that bad? Sure, it’s a bit annoying to look over and see your child walking around, playing or even sleeping with his thumb stuck in his mouth, but is it that big of a deal?
The truth is Yes. While thumbsucking may offer some calming benefits to your child when he or she is stressed, tired or upset, the long-term damage it can do to their mouth and oral development is pretty significant. And while it’s a hard habit to break- after all, you can’t really take away their thumb- it’s necessary to intervene and try to kick this habit at an early age. While many believe that this habit won’t impact a child’s teeth until they start getting their permanent teeth, the truth is that thumbsucking can have an impact on a child’s mouth, jaw and language development as early as 2 to 4 years of age.
Sucking puts pressure on the sides of the upper jaw, as well as the soft tissue on the roof of the child’s mouth. This can cause the upper jaw to narrow, in turn causing the teeth not to meet properly on top and bottom. Thumbsucking can also cause an open-bite and/or crossbite, which can both lead to chewing and speech problems. While most issues can be fixed with orthodontics, it’s a costly and timely process that can be lessened by breaking the thumbsucking habit.
What can you do to help your child break the habit?
Start early. Thumbsucking generally begins as a soothing mechanism. At an early age, it’s important to start giving your child alternative ways to soothe and cope with anxiety. Offering a favorite toy or blanket in place of their thumb when he or she is upset or tired. Sometimes singing or humming can occupy them and keep their mouth busy. Also, finding an activity to keep their hands busy, such as a fidget cube or other hand-held activity that will require them to use their thumb, rather than keep it in their mouth.
There are different theories on how to get your child to stop sucking his or her thumb. As your Anderson kids dentist, we recommend encouraging the behavior to stop through positive reinforcement and child-led progress, rather than forcefully preventing the behavior or shaming the child. While it’s tempting to rip your child’s hand away from his or her mouth every time that you see them sucking their thumb, it’s important to remember that this is a soothing mechanism and creating anxiety around the behavior will only increase your child’s need to self-soothe. In the end, most children do eventually stop sucking their thumbs. However, we also know that the earlier you bring awareness to the issue and begin providing alternative coping mechanisms, the better off your child’s smile will be.
According to family psychologist, Jenn Berman, in the WebMD article listed below, there are several ways to positively encourage your child to stop sucking his or her thumb. Anderson Pediatric Dentistry encourages you to try to break the habit early and provide your child with alternative soothing strategies that won’t damage their teeth or create expensive orthodontic problems down the road.
- Try to limit the time that your child sucks on his/her thumb to the bedroom or in the house. Explain that this is a nap or sleeping activity.
- Don’t make it confrontational. Instead, find times when your child is coping without thumbsucking and praise him or her. Focus on positive reinforcement.
- Talk to your child about thumbsucking and the damage it can cause and explain why you want them to stop and keep their smile beautiful. Empower your child to make the decision.
- Practice self-awareness with your child. When you see him sucking his thumb, ask him if he is aware that he is doing it. Most children do not realize that they are sucking their thumbs as often as they are.
- For older children that are having a harder time breaking the habit, especially when it’s used less for self-soothing, and more because it’s just a deeply ingrained habit, Anderson Pediatric Dentistry does recommend using a thumb-guard to physically prevent the child from sucking his or her thumb. These devices not only prevent further thumbsucking but help draw awareness to the issue. Your child is able to have a gentle reminder each time that he or she tries to put his or her thumb in his mouth.
Anderson Pediatric Dentistry is your neighborhood, kids dentist. We know that raising happy, healthy, and confident kids is hard work. And we want to help. Whether it’s breaking bad habits, routine cleanings, x-rays, sealants, or treatment planning, we are your Anderson, SC kids dentist! If you are looking for a dental home for your child, we welcome you. Call our office today at 864-760-1440 and let us give you Something to Smile About!