Five Tips to Help Your Child Stop Thumb-Sucking

Thumb-sucking is a normal developmental behavior for infants and toddlers. It is often a source of comfort when children don’t have the words to express their feelings or needs. Most kids give up thumb-sucking as they learn to talk and move onto the preschool years.

Unfortunately, children who continue to suck their thumbs past two to three years old could experience a range of oral health issues. For example, the act of sucking puts added pressure on the soft tissues located on the top of the child’s mouth and on both sides of the jaw. This can lead to teeth coming in at awkward angles, a problem that requires braces to fix. Other common issues include buck teeth, jaw misalignment, and a noticeable lisp when the child speaks.

Parents Can Help by Remaining Calm

While it might be upsetting to you to think that your child is harming his or her oral health, it is important to stay calm when you address the situation. Try to understand the need for your child to provide self-comfort and brainstorm other possible ways to meet that need such as carrying a small blanket or stuffed animal.

Teach New Ways to Handle Uncomfortable Feelings

Feelings such as fear, anxiety, sadness, and boredom can make a child feel overwhelmed. With limited life experience and vocabulary, thumb-sucking may seem like the most natural way for him or her to feel better. Teaching your child new strategies such listening to music or smelling a pleasant fragrance like flowers can help him or her to feel calmer in the face of strong emotions.

Explain Why Thumb-Sucking is a Problem

When a habit brings comfort to a child, he or she may feel upset when parents say to stop doing it. The younger the child, the more likely it is that he or she doesn’t understand that long-term thumb-sucking can have consequences. Try to explain in the most age-appropriate way the effect that the habit can have on teeth. You might also explain that germs make people sick and that your child’s thumb could have germs on it that travel to the mouth via thumb-sucking.

Ideas to Prevent Thumb-Sucking

While creating an unpleasant taste on the thumb can help some children give up the habit, you don’t want to take this to extremes. A small amount of vinegar will do as opposed to something like hot sauce or cayenne pepper. The latter could shock your child and cause him or her not to trust you in the future. Reserve using a thumb cover until you have tried every other possibility to help your child since it can restrict movement and cause frustration.

Positive Reinforcement

Rewards typically work better than punishments when trying to help children change their behavior. Consider creating a chart and placing a sticker on it for every day your child goes without thumb-sucking. You can then decide how many stickers your son or daughter needs to cash them in for a small prize.

The dentists at Nia Pediatric Dentistry welcome additional questions about thumb-sucking. Please schedule an appointment if you’re concerned about possible damage to your child’s mouth or you would like more tips.

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