Is Thumb Sucking Bad?

Thumb sucking is a common and natural behaviour for infants. The pressure and sucking motion can make children feel more secure, calm them, and help them fall asleep. Children normally turn to thumb sucking when bored, tired, or upset. If your child is five years old or younger, it is not necessary to force them to quit. Most children will eventually give up this habit in their own time.

How Does Thumb Sucking Affect My Child’s Teeth?

If your child’s thumb sucking persists past the age of five, it can have a lasting effect on your child’s teeth. Thumb sucking can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth, or changes in the roof of the mouth. The intensity of the sucking is a factor that will determine whether or not dental problems may result. For example, some children simply rest their thumbs passively in their mouths as opposed to sucking. This type of behaviour is less likely to result in dental problems in contrasts to vigorous sucking. Thumb sucking may also cause your child to develop speech problems. To stop the thumb sucking your child’s dentist may recommend inserting a fixed or removable device such as a “palatal bar” or “crib” in your child’s mouth to prevent sucking. However, there are other methods parents can try at home to rid their child’s habit.

 

How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Breaking a longstanding habit is challenging and can take six weeks or more. Before attempting to stop your child from thumb sucking, it is important to observe their behaviour to fully understand why and when your child sucks their thumb. Be aware of activities that might promote thumb sucking such as TV or car rides. If you can identify the times when your child is most likely to suck their thumb, provide alternative activities to divert their attention. Reprimanding your child for thumb sucking will not help and could prolong the problem.

 

You can try to use a simple behavioural approach that engages with your child in the process:

  • First, create a progress chart with the help of your child. It’s a good idea to let your child help make it fun by helping to pick a colour or the kinds of stickers used to track their progress.
  • Have a discussion with your child to determine how many slip-ups should allowed each week.
  • Provide a reward at the end of each week of no thumb or finger sucking. Make a larger reward for getting to the end of a month of no thumb or finger sucking.

 

If the above behavioural approach doesn’t work, another method you can try is placing a bitter-tasting liquid on the nail, but not directly on the finger. This should only be done at night to discourage thumb sucking while sleeping. You can also use mittens, gloves, or a finger-splint to be worn at night to discourage thumb and finger sucking.

 

Please remember with enough persistence and positive reinforcement, most children are able to drop the thumb-sucking habit. It may take a while, but if you keep at it, you’ll see the results you want over time. So don’t give up mummies and daddies!