Thumbsucking (or finger sucking) can be an appropriate and useful behaviour for young children. It allows comfort and often entertain themselves. It’s often a dilemma as a parent whether to give a child a dummy or to allow them to suck their thumb.
But when should this habit become a concern? While this harmless habit subsides without concern or intervention in most infants by about the age of two, some children increase their thumbsucking to such frequency and intensity that it becomes a social and dental problem.
Thumbs push the teeth out and because of the way the thumb is forced against the inside of the upper front teeth, thumbsucking can cause overjet (buck teeth) and other dental malocclusions such as narrow dental arches which can mean teeth are more likely to be crowded. If thumbsucking continues into an older age it can also cause an issue if orthodontic treatment is indicated as the treatment may not be successful if the habit continues.
Here are some tips to help your child break the habit:
- Praise your child for not sucking.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
- For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
- Your dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
If these tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your doctor or paediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.