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Helping thumbsuckers to quit

06 April 2011

Sucking is a natural reflex for children and can be soothing and relaxing. Sucking on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world.

However after the permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and cause changes in the roof of the mouth. The intensity of the dental problems that can arise depends on the intensity of the sucking.

Usually, children stop sucking their thumbs between 2 and 4 years old but should permanently stop by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Pacifiers can also cause dental problems but is often an easier habit to break. The habit is very hard to break but perhaps the most important part is that the child wants to stop.

Here are some tips from the American Dental Association on how to break the thumb-sucking habit:

• Praise children for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they are. 
• 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. 
• As dental professionals, we can offer encouragement to a child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking. 
• If the above tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. There are also bitter medications to coat the thumb or we can make a mouth appliance.