It’s a safe bet to say that babies and toddlers everywhere have always loved to put things in their mouth, whether it’s a thumb or a pacifier. Thumbsucking is a universal way to self-soothe that babies start using from the very beginning. In fact, some babies start sucking their thumb before they’re even born! While this universal habit is harmless for a little while, it can cause oral health problems if it continues past a certain age. Fortunately, a children’s dentist in Rowlett has effective ways to help your child overcome it. Keep reading to learn more about the risks of prolonged thumbsucking and what you can do about it!
When Should Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?
Thumbsucking and pacifier use typically don’t cause any issues for babies and toddlers under age 3. However, after age 3 it can cause the following problems:
- Changes in the roof of the mouth – Your child’s facial structure is growing and changing every day. If thumbsucking persists too long, it can cause the roof of their mouth to become “high” or vaulted.
- Speech problems – The tongue works closely with the teeth and other structures in the mouth to produce clear speech. Since thumbsucking causes changes in these structures, it can potentially contribute to a speech impediment.
- Bite misalignment – While many children will eventually need orthodontics, thumbsucking past age 3 makes it even more likely. The chronic pressure of the thumb on the erupting permanent teeth is highly likely to contribute to an open bite or overbite, which requires braces to fix.
How Can You Help Your Child Stop?
It’s natural to be concerned about the effects thumbsucking can have on your child’s oral health, especially since they can be so emotionally attached to it. But rest assured that there are safe, effective ways to help them overcome the habit.
The first step is scheduling a visit with a dentist for kids in Rowlett who can evaluate their specific needs and recommend the right treatment. In some cases, they may recommend that you start by talking with your child about the effects of thumbsucking and use positive reinforcement at home (i.e. praise them when they don’t do it).
Oftentimes children suck their thumb when they feel insecure or anxious, so providing lots of comfort is a great way to address the root of the problem. Avoid shaming them or engaging in a battle of wills, as this can negatively affect their self-image and have the opposite effect that you want.
If your efforts at home aren’t working, a kid’s dentist can provide an oral appliance to help discourage them. These temporary appliances won’t affect their ability to smile or eat, aren’t noticeable to others and simply make thumbsucking less enjoyable. Over time, it naturally helps your child stop the habit.
Remember, although thumbsucking past age 3 can have consequences to your child’s oral health, with the right evaluation and treatment, it doesn’t have to!
About the Author
Dr. Tera Pollock is a children’s dentist in Rowlett who has helped many of her patients quit sucking their thumb. Her goal is to help them avoid oral health problems that need to be addressed later on, such as a misaligned bite. If your child sucks their thumb and you have any additional questions, she can be reached via her website or at (469) 284-8895.