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When To Worry About Thumb Sucking?
Lifetime Dental Care
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When To Worry About Thumb Sucking?

Many infants and toddlers using thumb sucking as a method of self-comfort and self-consoling. As the child evolves thumb sucking may be used for more advanced soothing needs from tiredness, sickness, fear, or even boredom.

What Are the Consequences?

The frequency and the force exerted during the behavior have the most impact on long-term damage. If your child is a vigorous or frequent thumb sucker you may need to curb the habit as early as age three or four.

This may cause a gap to develop between the upper and lower teeth called an open bite. This is not just a dental problem, but results in reshaping of the jaws as well. Once this open bite is formed a tongue thrust may occur, which will continue to alter the alignment of the teeth once thumb sucking has stopped.

The alteration of the tongue muscles can lead to problems making speech sounds like “s” and “th”. Though these baby teeth will fall out, the permanent teeth will often follow the pathway of the jaw misalignment and may give an appearance of forwardly positioned or “buck” front teeth.

How To Stop Thumb Sucking

Provide motivation for your child to break the habit. Review subjects such as spreading germs, tooth position, speech and teasing from peers. Find a book or show where your child’s favorite or child friendly character talks about the habit.

A daily sticker chart, or positive reward system can also help. Set small goals at first due to your child’s habit frequency. Set a big reward for the 2-4 week mark that your child will be excited to work towards. Remember to give verbal praise several times a day.

Over-the-counter products can be used as well, including bad tasting nail polish, plastic thumb devices, finger covers, gloves, ace bandages at the elbow to prevent arm bending, and an alternative comforting object such as a blanket or toy.

What If Nothing Works?

Attempt to determine if your child has a stressor or underlying anxiety. This will be a difficult process for your child if they are not ready. Inform all childcare providers and family members of your process so they can receive consistent reinforcement when they are not in your care.

If there is no success after prolonged intervention feel free to reach out to a pediatric dental office to discuss your child’s risk for altered tooth alignment and the possible need for an orthodontic appliance.

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