How can I stop my child sucking their thumb?
Is thumb sucking normal?
At what age does it become a problem if my child has not stopped the habit?                                                                                                                                       I’m concerned that thumb sucking is affecting my child’s teeth – what can be done?
Why do children suck their thumbs?      
Thumb or finger sucking is perfectly normal for babies. In fact, some babies even start in the womb! The sucking reflex is necessary for feeding but babies also have a natural instinct to suck when they are not feeding as a way of self-soothing.

Babies and small children may suck their thumb or fingers or a pacifier when they are anxious, unwell, bored or as a way to get to sleep. Many children give up the habit on their own between 2 and 4 years old.

When does thumb-sucking become a problem?

If a child sucks their thumb, finger or pacifier intensely and regularly or for long periods of time it can affect their front teeth, causing them to be pushed forwards and creating a gap between the upper and lower front teeth. This can sometimes cause speech problems. In young children, unless there is some other factor causing the teeth to be crooked, the teeth will usually move back to their normal position spontaneously once the habit is stopped
If a child continues the habit after 4 or 5 years old then it may start to affect the position and appearance of their adult teeth as they come through. The longer the habit continues after 6 years old, the more likely that orthodontic treatment (braces) will be required to correct position of the adult teeth.

What can I do to help my child stop?

  • Don’t nag or punish your child for sucking their thumb. Many children suck their thumbs when they are stressed or anxious, so this will only make the problem worse.
  • Talk calmly with your child to try to find out why they suck their thumb.
  • Explain that the habit can cause teeth to become crooked. Ask if they would like help to stop.
  • Reassure your child that as they are maturing and growing up they will be able to stop – discuss some things they used to do as a baby which they no longer do now.
  • If there are particular situations that trigger the habit try to offer distractions or something to keep their hands busy.
  • If your child is sucking their thumb when anxious or stressed discuss the issues and try to find other solutions for reassurance or comfort.
  • Use positive reinforcement. You could make a chart where you can give a star for each day your child goes without sucking their thumb. You could agree on a reward or treat after a number of days or weeks.
  • For some children, it is a subconscious habit and just reminding them (without nagging!) when they are doing it can help them stop.
  • For others, putting something on the thumb, such as a small bandage, can act as a reminder.
  • If you find your child is using thumb-sucking as a way of getting attention you may be better to start ignoring it instead.

What if I have tried these ideas and it has not worked?

Firstly, visit you dentist. They can assess your child’s teeth and give advice.
For those children who have real difficulty giving up the habit, a habit breaker appliance can be used. This would involve first making a mould of the teeth, so that the appliance can be made in a dental laboratory.
A habit breaker appliance is fixed to the back teeth and has a blunt wire which sits behind the upper front teeth. This does not cause any pain but it makes trying to the suck the thumb uncomfortable and therefore takes away the pleasure of the habit. Even if your child still puts their thumb or finger in their mouth they will not be able to create  the suction force which causes pressure on the teeth.
The same day a habit breaking appliance is fitted, a child may experience initial discomfort around the back teeth. Speaking and eating but be a bit more difficult for the first few days but should soon return to normal. Advice is given on care and cleaning of the appliance.

The appliance is usually worn for 6-12 months, with regular checks at the dentist. It has found to be very successful in breaking the habit and allowing the teeth to return to their normal position.

If you have any other questions, please make a comment below or visit your dentist.

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