Thumb-Sucking: Issues and Solutions

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From the moment a child is born, they need comfort to thrive. Whether it be cuddling a favorite stuffed animal, wrapping up in a soft blanket, or popping in a pacifier, children develop a preferred method of soothing themselves. For many, sucking their thumb becomes a natural, easy method of choice. While thumb-sucking during the toddler and early preschool years is not usually a problem, it can have negative consequences if it continues much longer.

Adverse Effects of Continuous Thumb-sucking

There are a few areas of a child’s life that can be impacted by holding onto the habit of sucking their thumb.

  • Social Responses. While it may not be kind or fair, kids in elementary school can be blunt. They may make comments that cause your child to lose confidence or that make it difficult for them to make friends because of their habit.
  • Dental. Once permanent teeth are ready to come in, thumb-sucking can cause changes to the roof of the mouth and improper alignment of the adult teeth. Often this will need to be repaired once all adult teeth are in place with the help of orthodontics.
  • Speech Difficulties. Dental issues can lead to more serious problems involving the pronunciation of certain sounds. Speech therapy may be required to resolve this issue.
  • Minor Skin Concerns. The skin on the favored thumb may become chapped and callused. This can be hard to treat, as any sort of ointment on the afflicted thumb could end up in your child’s mouth.

How to Help Your Child Break the Habit

A thumb-sucking habit is not as easy to break as a pacifier habit. After all, you can’t take your child’s thumbs away. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many things you can do to help your child cease the sucking.

  • Inform. Whether you talk to your child first or you let their dentist explain the dental consequences that come along with thumb-sucking, the child needs to know what could happen to their teeth if they continue to get comfort from their thumb.
  • Encourage. Applaud any efforts that you see your child make. For instance, if you see them bring their thumb up to their mouth and pause, let them know you see their struggles. Reward charts can also be a wonderful motivator.
  • New Soothing Techniques. If you know what triggers your child to start thumb-sucking, try to find an alternative method of helping them soothe themselves. For instance, if they tend to suck their thumb out of boredom, give them a fidget spinner to handle when you know they may struggle.
  • Nighttime Coverage. Because your child is not fully aware that they are sucking in the middle of the night, it’s easiest to try and discourage the habit physically. Covering the thumb with a Band-Aid or a glove or putting on a dab of bitter-tasting liquid should discourage the activity.

If your child is still finding comfort in sucking their thumb at the age of five or six, don’t despair. Talk to a child’s dentist like Pedodontic Associates Inc about the potential problems for your individual child and develop a plan to help them stop. Keeping a relaxed attitude will go a long way in helping your child break the habit with ease.

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