While watching babies suck their thumbs can be absolutely adorable, thumb sucking can cause some dental problems in the future! As long as your child stops sucking his or her thumb by the time their baby teeth start falling out, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if the habit lasts beyond this stage, you may need to address it.
Problems Caused by Thumb Sucking
Thumb sucking can cause functional and aesthetic problems for your child’s mouth. Some of these problems include:
- Narrow Palate – The roof of the mouth is also known as the palate. Because a child’s mouth is so pliable, a thumb sucker’s palate may eventually begin to conform to the shape of their thumb, causing the arch of the mouth to become too narrow or high.
- Open Bite – An open bite is when your child’s teeth don’t meet together when their mouth closes. This not only affects the aesthetics of their smile, but can also cause problems when chewing, biting, and speaking. Orthodontic treatment will be necessary to fix an open bite.
- Jaw Misalignment – If your child sucks his or her thumb with enough force, it may cause the jaws to shift out of their correct positions. If this becomes severe enough, your child may eventually need jaw surgery to correct the jaw alignment.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to encourage your child to stop sucking his or her thumb.
Tips to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking
Most children will stop sucking their thumb on their own before any intervention is needed. However, if the habit continues into kindergarten, it may be time to step in with some preventative measures. Below are a few tips on how to discourage your child from sucking his or her thumb.
- Keep Them Busy – If your child’s little hands are busy with crafts, books, or outdoor activities, they won’t be able to suck their thumbs. Distraction is a great tool to use when trying to discourage kids from engaging in bad habits.
- Positive Reinforcement – Instead of punishing your child when he or she engages in thumb sucking behavior, reward them when they do not. It’s been proven that positive reinforcement (praising them when avoid thumb sucking) is more effective than punishing them.
- Reward System – Offering children a reward for going a day, or even an hour, without engaging in thumb sucking behavior can go a long way. Utilize small treats or a sticker chart for a larger prize. Gently remind them during the day about their progress.
- Prevent Nighttime Sucking – Even if your child is great at avoiding thumb sucking during the day, he or she may still struggle with it at night. We recommend placing mittens or bandages on their hands or thumbs before bed to discourage nighttime thumb sucking behavior.
If you’re having a difficult time keeping your child from sucking his or her thumb, we’d be happy to offer a few more suggestions! To make an appointment at Camp Little Tooth, please contact our Lafayette, Colorado pediatric dental office today.