Why do children suck their thumbs? Many infants suck their thumbs even before they are born. Sucking is a comfort for infants and young children. As the child gets older, thumb sucking often becomes a bad habit.
Thumb sucking is normal: some children just have a greater need for oral comfort than others. Children who suck their thumbs aren’t neurotic nor should the habit make parents neurotic!
Is thumb sucking harmful for my child? Not for young children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that thumb sucking is not a concern until the permanent front teeth begin to emerge, which is usually after 5 years of age. If thumb sucking does persist, pressure on the emerging permanent upper front teeth can cause them to protrude, resulting in problems with his bite. Sometimes, children who suck their thumbs develop calluses or even infections where their teeth contact the skin of the thumb.
Is sucking a pacifier preferable to sucking a thumb? Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking all have similar effects on teeth and jaws. The only advantage of sucking a pacifier is that it is an easier habit to break because it can be physically removed from the child.
How do I treat thumb sucking? The majority of children who suck their thumbs actually stop on their own. It’s probably best just to ignore the habit, especially in younger children. Once your child’s permanent teeth have erupted, you can use behavioral techniques, such as distraction, and encouragement (using ‘star charts’). Some parents apply bad-tasting, non-toxic solutions to the thumb as a deterrent. Occasionally it is necessary for his dentist to insert an oral device, which interferes with sucking, into your child’s mouth. Hypnosis might work to stop your child sucking his thumb if he is already motivated to stop.
Thank you from Caring for Kids (N. Saunders MD, FRCPC., J. Friedman MB.ChB, FRCPC., Key Porter Books, 2006) p. 203.
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