When Does Thumb Sucking Become a Problem? – Kids Pediatric Dentistry - Kids Pediatric Dentistry
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When Does Thumb Sucking Become a Problem? – Kids Pediatric Dentistry

When Does Thumb Sucking Become a Problem? – Kids Pediatric Dentistry

Babies use pacifiers to self-soothe. As they get older and you throw the pacifier away, it is quite common for them to switch to thumb sucking. This is a hard habit to break. While it’s generally not a problem when your child only has baby teeth, once permanent teeth start coming in, it’s important to wean them off this habit. By age five, parents need to help their child stop sucking.

Thumb sucking is a form of emotional regulation, which is a big reason why it is so hard for kids to stop. Teaching your child other methods to manage their emotions can make quitting easier. So, what are the consequences if your child continues sucking their thumb after their permanent teeth start coming in?

  1. Bite Deformation: Thumb sucking causes both open bites and overbites. Open bites and overbites are a form of dental malocclusion, which means the teeth are aligned improperly, presenting as misalignment that is evident even when the mouth is closed. An open bite means that the lower and upper teeth both point outward. Even when the child’s mouth is closed, the front teeth don’t touch. An overbite means that the child’s front teeth are pointed outward while also overlapping the bottom teeth noticeably. Both types of bite deformation require corrective orthodontics, and in extreme cases, surgery. Other bite issues such as cross-bites can occur as well.
  2. Speech Impediments: Since thumb sucking affects the growth of your child’s teeth, jaw, and palate, it follows that thumb sucking also causes speech impediments. Common problems include lisps and the inability to pronounce certain consonants correctly. Once a speech impediment develops, your child will likely need speech therapy. The difficulty they experience when communicating causes frustration, and can impact their social life, leading us to the next issue.
  3. Social Frustrations: If your child sucks their thumb past the age most their peers have stopped, their peers may judge them for it. Children with speech impediments may feel different or separate from other kids. They may struggle to communicate and feel socially frustrated.
  4. Thumb Issues: Constant thumb sucking affects both the skin of your child’s thumb as well as the nail. The skin becomes delicate and may crack or bleed. If this happens, infection is possible. In addition, the thumbnail may warp or become ingrown from the pressure.

You may wonder how to break your child of this habit. The first step is talking to your child about the habit and why it’s important to stop. A chat with your pediatric dentist may help the child understand why they need to stop thumb sucking more effectively than mom or dad trying to convince them. Read our blog to find out how to choose a pediatric dentist.

Positive reinforcement and gentle reminders motivate your child to quit. Positive reinforcement bolsters the behaviors you want to see with rewards. Set small, achievable goals like no thumb sucking for an hour before bed before moving to more difficult goals like no thumb sucking outside the house. When your child reaches a goal, give them a small reward. If they have trouble achieving a goal, don’t punish them, adjust the goalposts as needed so that they can be successful. If your child sucks their thumb at a location or time they shouldn’t be, gently remind them to stop.

If your child struggles to quit sucking their thumb, don’t hesitate to contact Pediatric Dentist Dr. Alina at 972-727-0011. We can schedule a time to speak with your child as well as offer further advice to help your child quit.