Thumb-Sucking: Habits Turned Ugly

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A Habit from Birth
Thumb-sucking comes naturally to children. It is a reflex. When babies suck on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, or other things, they feel happy and safe. This habit helps them to learn about the wide world around them. Young children often suck to soothe themselves when upset or to help them to fall asleep.

Potential Problems
Children usually stop sucking their thumb on their own between the ages of two and four. Up until this point, thumb-sucking is harmless. However, if your child continues to suck his or her thumb as the permanent teeth begin to come in, dental problems can occur. Thumb-sucking can cause issues with the development of the roof of your child’s mouth. This habit can also cause teeth to come in crooked or crowded. Buck teeth are a common result of prolonged thumb-sucking. When a child with crooked teeth or buck teeth grows older, he or she may feel self-conscious about their smile. If your child just rests their thumb in their mouth, they are less likely to develop dental problems than if they suck their thumb vigorously.

Tips to Break the Habit
Encourage your child to break the habit and offer rewards for not thumb-sucking, rather than punishment for thumb-sucking. Rewards will help your child’s self-esteem. Children who continue to suck their thumbs often have anxiety or self-esteem problems, so punishment and criticism may cause more harm than good. Focus on comforting your child and correcting the cause of their anxiety. Some parents put a bitter-tasting liquid on their child’s thumbnails or put mittens on their child before bed to discourage thumb-sucking. This works for some children, but other children will become frustrated, so the desire to suck their thumb will increase. If these methods do not work, ask your child’s dentist for advice.