Thumb-sucking is a natural way for babies to soothe themselves. Actually, many infants begin sucking their thumbs or fingers when they are inside the womb.
There are several benefits to babies sucking their thumb, fingers or a pacifier. It gives them a sense of security, helps them learn about the world around them, is relaxing and may help the child fall asleep.
From a dental standpoint, though, thumb-sucking or pacifiers can cause problems with proper growth of the mouth, teeth alignment or speech problems if it continues past the age of 5. While most babies and toddlers will break the habit on their own between the ages of 3 to 6 years, there are some children who continue to depend on their extremities for comfort, even as they get into first and second grade.
Intense or prolonged sucking may cause malocclusion, a condition where the teeth are not properly aligned or pushed outward. While these conditions often correct themselves when the child does not suck on their fingers anymore, there are times when this habit leads to prescribed orthodontic treatment. As permanent teeth come in, thumb-sucking can also cause changes to the roof of the mouth. Some children also develop speech problems if they suck their fingers too long.
If you hear a popping sound when the finger is released from your child’s mouth or if you see callous, or cracking or bleeding sores on your child’s finger, she is probably sucking too hard. You can also check with your pediatrician or Dr. Kassem to see if your child is sucking their fingers hard enough to cause concern.
If your child is causing damage to their mouth or reaching four years of age, parents can encourage children to stop thumb-sucking, but it is important that the child breaks the habit on their own.
The older the child gets, their reasons for thumb-sucking often changed. Sometimes children past the age of 4 suck their thumbs because they are bored or insecure. If you see your child’s thumb making the way to his mouth, distract him and involve him in another activity.
If your child sucks her thumb when she’s insecure, it is important to address the reason for anxiety or worry. Once your child chooses a different option than sucking his/her thumb, praise or reward him/her instead of scolding when he/she does.
You can also limit time with items, such as blankets or stuffed animals, your child may associate with thumb-sucking.
Putting a bandage or sock on their thumb or hand overnight may help deter them from sucking their thumb overnight.
If your child is not responding to at-home treatments, talk to your pediatrician or Dr. Kassem about ways to help.
It is very important that you do not shame your child for thumb-sucking as this can cause more damage.