According to the Canadian Dental Association, thumb sucking is natural self-soothing behaviour for babies and toddlers because it helps them relax and puts them at ease. While it is normal at a young age, once your child’s permanent teeth come in, thumb sucking can cause long-term damage. Thumb sucking can affect the jaw and teeth, so it’s important to wean your child off at an earlier age if possible.

The Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking as a prolonged long-term habit can cause permanent damage to your child’s incoming permanent teeth. The pressure of the thumb may cause teeth to shift around, causing the formation of an overbite or underbite. Thumb sucking can affect jawbone positioning, which may lead to the development of a lisp. The pressure of the thumb may affect the sensitive of the palate (roof of the mouth). Finally, if your child’s thumb is dirty, sucking on it may cause germs and bacteria to enter the mouth and affect the body.

Weaning Your Child

Let’s explore some suggested ways to help wean your child off of thumb sucking in a healthy and constructive way:

  • At the beginning, it is best to minimize the times that your child sucks his or her thumb, rather than going “cold turkey.” Allow your child to thumb suck at bed or nap time, but not when out in public or at school.
  • Focus on positive reinforcement, not criticism. Praise your child for times they don’t suck, rather than criticizing them when they turn to it as a soothing mechanism. Punishing or yelling at your child will only create more stress.
  • Communicate with your child and let them know that you’re there for them as they ease through this transition.
  • Encourage your child to be aware of thumb sucking, rather than doing it without even noticing.
  • Help your child develop other soothing mechanisms, whether deep breathing, holding on to a favourite stuffed animal, or singing a soothing song.
  • Frame the end of thumb sucking as an exciting part of growing up. It’s not about losing part of the past, but about gaining all the new things that come with getting old.
  • Point out role models who don’t suck their thumb. If you point out that Mommy and Daddy and Taylor Swift don’t suck their thumbs, and now the child won’t want to either.
  • Don’t use any anti-sucking products or devices. Let the process happen naturally with open communication, not gimmicks.

Speak with your child’s pediatric dentist at The Teal Umbrella about more methods for ensuring your child’s teeth grow in properly and with no permanent damage due to thumb sucking.

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