Thumb-sucking: Tips to Break the Habit

Monday - 12.02.2019

thumb sucking

The world is a big, new, confusing place for a young child, so it's not much of a surprise that they like having something familiar to help them cope. Sometimes this means a stuffed animal or favorite blanket they carry everywhere, but for many children, it’s a pacifier or a thumb.

As parents, it’s important to be able to strike the right balance for our children when it comes to thumb-sucking or pacifier habits. Forcing them to stop too early can bring them unnecessary stress, but allowing them to continue sucking that thumb too long can cause significant problems for their oral health.

When is Thumb-Sucking and Pacifiers Beneficial

Sucking on things is a reflex babies develop before birth, and it can be very comforting for them. Sucking their thumb or a pacifier will help them feel safe and happy in their earliest years of life. Benefits to thumb-sucking or pacifier use at this stage include helping them sleepkeeping them calm, and reducing the risk of SIDS.

When is it Time to Stop?

Many parents worry that their toddler’s thumb-sucking or pacifier use will cause their adult teeth to grow in crooked, but there’s no need to worry at this age. Most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own by age four, and when they begin school, the desire to appear as grown-up as their peers will encourage them to stop.

If they don’t stop on their own around kindergarten age, this is when it’s important to intervene. Once the permanent teeth start coming in, vigorous thumb-sucking can lead to changes in the shape of the palate and an open bite between the upper and lower teeth, which will mean expensive orthodontic treatment down the line.

Tips to Break the Habit of Thumb-Sucking

Bite and dental alignment problems are less common with pacifiers because parents can simply take the pacifier away if the child doesn’t stop using it on their own by age three, but if your child is getting close to age six and still sucking their thumb, here are a few safe strategies you could use:

  • Praise their successes rather than scolding them for continuing to suck their thumb.
  • Create a rewards chart so they can see the progress they’re making and what they’re working for.
  • Keep their hands and minds occupied with activities like arts and crafts. Sometimes they thumb-suck because they’re bored!

Remember, these strategies are best for kindergarten-age and older children, not toddlers! Toddlers are too young to understand why you want them to stop sucking their thumb, so attempts at encouraging them to stop will only upset them.

Have Additional Questions?

If you’re worried about your child’s pacifier use or thumb-sucking habit, don’t hesitate to call us! We can answer your questions and help you develop an effective strategy to ensure your child’s healthy dental development.

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Elaina with DentaQuest

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elaina with DentaQuest

This blog is designed to provide general information and discussions about health and dental-related subjects. No doctor/dentist to patient relationship is established by your use of this blog or website. We are not providing any treatment or diagnosis on this blog, and it is not intended to offer specific dental or medical advice to anyone. The information or other content provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional dental expertise or treatment. We will do our best to provide you with information that will help you make your own healthcare decisions, however no guarantees or warranties are made regarding any of the information contained within this blog. If you have questions about any of the information presented on this blog, you should consult with your dentist. The dentists at Sarrell Dental and Eye are licensed to practice in the state of Alabama and this blog is not intended to solicit patients from other states. External links may be provided on this blog as a service and convenience to our patients and other visitors to our blog. These external sites are created and maintained by other public and private organizations, and we do not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance or timeliness of any outside information.