Understanding the Effects of Prolonged Thumb-Sucking in Children

September 3, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — drlindasteele @ 12:35 am
a child sucking on their thumb

Thumb-sucking is a common soothing mechanism for infants and toddlers, and if you’re a parent yourself, you’ve probably enjoyed those brief moments of reprieve when your child has calmed down thanks to their thumb. However, when this habit persists, it can lead to various dental and developmental issues. Continue reading below to learn a little more from your trusted pediatric dentist about how prolonged thumb-sucking can cause problems for your little one, along with some tips for stopping it.

Why Is Prolonged Thumb-Sucking Problematic?

Up to a certain point, it’s normal for your little one to suck on their thumb; in fact, the American Dental Association estimates that children often stop this behavior by their third or fourth birthday. It’s undeniably helpful when it comes to helping a child cope with anxiety or stress—however, it can have some damaging dental effects if it becomes a long-term habit.

For example, prolonged thumb-sucking can negatively impact the development of your child’s teeth, causing their upper and lower teeth not to come together evenly. These open bites can make it difficult for your child to eat and speak—and it can also influence their self-image!

How Can I Discourage Thumb-Sucking?

Here are some general tips that can help you encourage your child to refrain from sucking their thumb:

  • Help your child find a healthier coping mechanism for stress, such as having them hold a blanket, stuffed animal, or toy. Similarly, avoid situations that may increase your child’s stress, like shaming, criticizing, or admonishing them for thumb-sucking.
  • Use a chart to track their behavior and reward them when they’re able to refrain from thumb-sucking for an extended period. You should also reinforce healthy behaviors like not sucking their thumb with rewards and praise.
  • Discourage the behavior by putting a bandage on their thumb or covering their hand with a sock at night, if they’re prone to doing it while they’re asleep.
  • If your child is old enough, communicate to them how thumb-sucking can negatively affect their oral health—make them realize that it’s time to move on!

Prolonged thumb-sucking can have lasting effects on a child’s emotional well-being, as well as their dental well-being—this means that as a parent, you should strive to understand the potential consequences of the habit and curb it accordingly!

About the Author

Dr. Linda Steele received her dental doctorate from the Baylor College of Dentistry and is a proud member of several professional dental organizations including the American Dental Association and the Texas Dental Association. Her practice in Coppell is thrilled to offer a wide range of pediatric dental services, so if you’re looking for the perfect place for your little one’s smile, look no further! If you have any questions about the blog or you’d like to arrange an appointment, feel free to visit her website or contact her practice by phone: (972) 640-7432.

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