Babies have natural sucking reflexes, which can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers into their mouths. Ultrasound images reveal that thumb sucking often happens even before birth. It’s a baby’s way to feel secure and self-sooth. Most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own by age 4, however stress has been shown in some cases to revert children back to thumb sucking.
As a parent, a common question is, when should I intervene? Thumb sucking isn’t usually a concern until a child begins to get their permanent teeth. At this point, thumb sucking might begin to affect the roof of the mouth (palate) and the alignment of teeth. The risk of dental problems are directly related to how often, how long, and how intensely your child sucks on their thumb. These might include protrusive upper front teeth, tipped back lower front teeth, open bite (teeth not touching in the front) and crossbite (upper teeth biting inside the lower teeth). It’s not uncommon for parents to seek Orthodontic assistance for problems caused by a persistent sucking habit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends intervention of a thumb sucking habit after 5 years of age.
What can you do to encourage a child to stop thumb sucking? For infants, try a pacifier. Pacifiers can still cause unwanted changes to the teeth, but they are easier to control when it comes to phasing it out. In fact, cutting the tips off the end of the pacifier is a great way to ween a toddler off the habit. For the child over five, explain the risks, identify triggers, offer rewards, and provide reminders such as a glove on the hand or a band-aid on the finger. Seeking an oral myofunctional therapist could help, but you’re most likely to be successful in stopping the habit only if your child wants to stop. If the habit persists up to 8 or 9 years of age, Olson Orthodontics can help! A palatal appliance such as an expander will usually stop the habit by changing the feeling of having the finger or thumb in the mouth. This reduces satisfaction and the urge to put a finger or thumb into the mouth. As a bonus, Dr. Olson can make corrective tooth movements with the appliance as well! Come visit our office today, we can help break the thumb sucking habit!