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Why does my child suck their thumb?

October 27, 2021 Children's Dentistry

Why does my child suck their thumb?

Thumb sucking is a habit that can develop even while the baby is still in the womb. It’s a natural soothing mechanism for many children when they are feeling tired or anxious. Thumb sucking in children under the age of four generally does not cause any long-term problems and most children grow out of the habit before then.

Occasionally a child may continue to suck their thumb up until the age of five. This may have negative effects on the developing dental arch, facial appearance and even speech problems.
Some common problems seen in children who suck their thumb include:
1. Malocclusion including open bite and overbite formation. An open bite means there is a gap between the front teeth when the back teeth are biting together, while an overbite means the top teeth cover the lower teeth when their mouth is closed. These can be caused by the outward pressure of the thumb on the upper teeth, pushing them outward.
2. Speech Impediments: Altering the position of the developing jaws and teeth may cause lisping and other speech disorders.
3. Skin irritations: Constant thumb sucking may cause the skin to crack, bleed and become infected. Often a thick callus may form on the thumb caused by pressure from the teeth rubbing or biting against the skin.
4. Social Issues: Although thumb sucking is accepted in young children, school age children may face teasing.

Gentle encouragement and support are what your child will need to help break the thumb sucking cycle, remembering the habit may be a coping mechanism for your child.
Anticipate situations that your child may use the habit for soothing. Try to substitute an alternative, such as a soft toy to cuddle or hold on to. Talking with your child will definitely help. Use encouraging language. Little children all want to be older than they are. Referring to your child as a “big boy” or “big girl”, may encourage them to cease the habit. Praise, positive reinforcement and rewards for a job well done never goes astray. Always be positive and do not resort to negative reinforcements. Tell your child you are proud of them for their hard work.

Don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. Your dentist will be able to talk to your child about the importance of not sucking their thumb. Sometimes it just takes hearing the same information from someone other than a parent to convince a child to break a habit.