Many children begin to develop a habit for thumb sucking as infants. This is a normal habit for infants that stems from the patterns associated with feeding. Although sucking the thumb is a normal habit to form, it can become a damaging one to the dental health of children over time. Here we outline how thumb sucking and dental health go hand in hand.

It’s a Normal Habit for Infants Aged 4 or Under

Thumb sucking for infants that are four years of age and younger should not cause any concern when developing this habit. As infants grow past this age, the pattern of thumb sucking usually begins to fade. However, for some children this can continue to persist.

Why Do Some Children Develop This Habit?

This universal habit is believed to replicate the act of nursing. As infants suck their thumb, their tongue is pressed against the thumb to create a seal, similar to breastfeeding. As infants begin to grow and develop teeth, that motion begins to press against the teeth, blocking the tongue from naturally resting behind the top teeth when swallowing. This can stunt their development of the tongue to swallow properly.

As this habit continues, it also pulls and presses against both the upper and lower teeth, eventually forming an overbite throughout mouth and jawline. This may eventually require some corrective treatment in the future from a pediatric dentist.

When Should You Intervene?

Children usually stop this pattern of behaviour around the age of two to four. But it can become something that might be a lingering habit when they are anxious or stressed. It also matters how they are sucking their thumb – aggressively sucking the thumb is much more damaging than passively placing it in the mouth.

But the best way to prevent any damage from occurring to your child’s natural oral development and dental health is to encourage them to stop sucking their thumb once they reach the age of four. You can achieve this by learning what their triggers are – stress, comfort – and providing alternatives. You can also use positive reinforcement through small rewards to encourage them to quit the habit.

Simply talking to your child can help you understand the reason that’s causing them to resort to the habit and how you can intervene and encourage them to stop.

Although most children naturally stop sucking their thumbs as toddlers, for others, it can become an extremely difficult habit to break. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern, but by being informed and understanding when it might be time to intervene, it can help improve their dental health and avoid any costly treatments in the future.

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