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Is Thumb-Sucking Harmful for Your Child’s Smile?

September 30, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — drbenzley @ 7:23 pm
Child sucking thumb

Thumb-sucking is a very common habit among young children. Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes, causing them to put their thumbs and fingers in their mouths. This can even happen when there are still in the womb. However, you may be wondering how long it goes on. As your child gets older, will this affect their oral health or well-being? Continue reading to learn more about the effects of thumb-sucking and some steps to get your child to discontinue the habit.

Is Thumb-Sucking Normal?

It is normal and safe for your young child to suck on their thumb. As they are growing, feeling objects and putting their fingers in their mouth is their natural way of exploring and understanding the world around them. Some children resort to thumb-sucking as a way to comfort themselves, just like how other children may hug their blanket or stuffed animal. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), children usually discontinue this behavior on their own when they are around 2 to 4 years old.

Can Thumb-Sucking Be Harmful?

This is definitely a habit that you should be monitoring as your child gets older, as it can lead to a variety of dental issues down the line when continued too long. Thumb-sucking isn’t usually seen as problematic until they are around five years old. At this point, it is a good idea to begin taking steps to wean your child off of this habit. Ultimately, children can end up developing a misaligned bite, palate issues, overbite, and speech problems.

How Can You Discourage Your Child from Sucking Their Thumb?

Just like any other routine practice, thumb-sucking can be habitual, so your child may not even notice that they’re doing it. Here are some steps that you can take to try to discourage your child from sucking their thumb as they get older:

  • Introduce a new comfort item or coping mechanism for stress, like hugging a stuffed animal or toy.
  • Don’t shame or criticize your child for sucking their thumb. This can be discouraging and stress-inducing for them.
  • Reward them for not sucking their thumb with prizes, like stickers.
  • Try putting a bandage on their thumb or covering their hand with a glove or sock at night.
  • For older children, remind them of the negative impact of sucking their thumb.
  • Talk to your child’s dentist. They likely have additional recommendations for children who are having difficulty breaking this habit.

Giving up a bad habit can be difficult, but with some patience and hard work, it can be done. This way, you can set your child up to have a healthy, happy smile!

About the Author

Dr. Layne Benzley earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Iowa and his pediatric dental specialty certificate from the Eastman Dental Center at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. Dr. Benzley has successfully completed all the requirements to be certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and is a father himself to four young children. For more information or to schedule an appointment for your child at his office in Castle Rock, visit his website or call (303) 660-5373.