It is fairly common for babies to suck on their thumbs, fingers, or even a pacifier during infancy. A self-soothing practice, thumb sucking stems from a baby’s need to feel comforted and secure in his surroundings (not to mention it also helps them fall asleep!). While most children grow out of this habit during their toddler years, there are some who find it difficult to stop thumb sucking even when they have reached elementary school.

Many studies prove that if the habit of thumb sucking persists beyond the ages of 5-6 years, it may cause some serious damage to a child’s permanent teeth. Here are a few side effects of thumb sucking.

Why is thumb sucking bad?

1) Misaligned teeth
One of the many dental problems that occur due to extended thumb sucking is misaligned teeth (malocclusion) or teeth being pushed upwards. The presence of the thumb in the mouth results in shifting of teeth causing an overbite or an underbite to form. Not only that, but the roof of the mouth may also become malformed due to this habit.

2) Infections
Children who suck their thumb past the age of infancy have a high risk of infections due to continuous exposure to bacteria. The germs from their thumb and surrounding areas affect their bodies, making them prone to illnesses. Moreover, extensive thumb sucking creates painful sores on the thumb.

3) Speech Difficulties
The misalignment of teeth may also cause sound distortions, making it hard for a child to speak properly. Additional problems include tongue thrust in place of the mature swallow and certain letters (like s, z, d, l, n) being pronounced incorrectly. Some children even develop a lisp that can affect the positioning of the jaw bone.

4) Social Issues
Elementary school children who do not lose their habit of sucking their thumb remain at risk of attracting ridicule from their peers. Since thumb sucking is considered to be a toddler activity, children beyond that age are often judged and laughed at, something which further affects their self-esteem.

When should thumb sucking stop?

Children usually get rid of their thumb sucking habit between the age of two and four years or before pre-school. If not, they stop once their permanent front teeth start to come out. If your child is old enough to be in elementary and has not stopped sucking on his thumb, consider consulting a dentist.

Effective tips to stop thumb sucking

1) Be Gentle
When it comes to disciplining a child, positive reinforcement works far better than punishment. If you behave strictly, it will create further stress for your kid, propelling him to suck more on his thumb. Instead, opt for gentle encouragement and tell your kid the reasons as to why this habit is harmful. Your understanding and support will surely help him grow out of his habit.

2) Observe
Children usually suck their thumb when they are scared and nervous about something. Try to observe your kid’s behavior and find out the triggers that cause him to suck his thumb. Once you know the reasons, try to eliminate them. You can distract your kid with a toy or a song, or engage him in a conversation.

3) Praise
Remember, habits are hard to break, especially bad ones. It will require patience and love on your part to help your kid out of his habit. Make sure to track your child’s progress and shower him with plenty of praises every time he achieves a milestone. You can also try some sucking aid recommended by your dentist.

If you need any further information or help on this issue, you may visit Abingdon Box Hill Dentistry and talk to our experts. Our dentists will provide you with the right medication or appliance for your kid. We can be reached at 410-569-8500.

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