Consequences and Prevention of Thumb Sucking in Children

Young boy sucking his thumb

Thumb sucking is common in young children and toddlers; however it may at times be found in adults as well. This behavior is normal and the urge to suck generally decreases after around six months, although it is not uncommon for children below four years to suck their thumbs. However, thumb sucking becomes a concern if it persists past 5 years. This is because it may lead to developmental problems in the teeth and subsequent speech.

Consequences of Thumb Sucking in Children

Persistent thumb sucking past the age of four years can have a number of negative effects such as:

  • Due to their young jaws, the constant pressure of the jaws to the thumb may reshape the jawbone of the child, leading to an irregular and unnatural shape.
  • Consistent thumb sucking will narrow the dental arches of the child. This will lead to teeth being misaligned in the mouth – lower front teeth will move inward while the upper front teeth will tip upward and flare out.

The child’s palate (roof of the mouth) will be affected, leading to issues such as:

  • Coupled with front teeth misalignment, this will cause the child to have speech developmental problems such as the inability to properly pronounce “T” and “D.”
  • Poor tongue placement in the mouth.
  • Chewing and biting problems such as overbite and open bite.
  • Swallowing problems due to poor tongue placement in the mouth.

Prevention of Thumb Sucking

Here are some of the approaches that may be used to prevent children from letting thumb sucking become a problem:

  • The first thing that any parent must understand is that becoming confrontational with the child will not bear desirable results. Talk to the child gently and tell her the bad effects of thumb sucking in a gentle and simple way.
  • Try to limit the thumb sucking of the child to only when he/she is at home. Remind the child to stop sucking the thumb each time he/she unconsciously does it when out in public. When the child stops sucking the thumb while in public, you can then start teaching the child to stop it while at home.
  • Don’t try forcing the child to stop sucking the thumb when hurt or injured. This will put more stress on the child as most children suck their thumbs as a way of finding solace from stress such as that caused by injury.
  • Avoid using accessories that are marketed as quick-fix solutions to thumb sucking as they will create unnecessary anxiety in the children by the discomfort they cause.
  • Reward the child with encouragement such as “good boy” or occasional treats when they show willingness and signs of stopping the habit.
  • If the problem persists past six years, you can visit a dentist. The dentist may recommend a reminder bar in the upper part of the child’s mouth. This interferes with the ability to suck the thumb and is very effective in preventing thumb sucking during sleep.

Nadia Kiderman is a dentist and oral health specialist from NY.

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