Time really does change everything. You used to love to watch your child cuddle up with a toy while sucking their thumb; it was one of the few comforts during those rough first years of parenting. A few years later they are running up to you, telling you what they want to eat, but you can’t understand them because their thumb is planted firmly in their mouth. You’re concerned with what the thumbsucking might be doing to their teeth as they are coming in. Is it really that bad? How can I get them to stop? Drs. Grant and Melissa and Justin Barnhart, all children’s dentists in Hutchinson, give you the facts.
Can Thumbsucking Affect My Child’s Teeth?
Thumbsucking is an extremely common habit for children aged 2-4. One of the most common ways young children interact with the world is seeing how everything tastes, it seems. Factors such as hunger, boredom, or stress can lead to prevalent thumbsucking. It only starts to become an issue around ages 5 and 6 when a child’s permanent teeth are starting to come in. If your child continues to suck their thumb during this time, they may experience these effects:
- Shifting of the teeth which can cause crowding, an overbite, or an underbite
- The formation of a lisp
- Sickness from germs introduced to the body via the thumb and mouth
- Alteration of the roof of the mouth
Many children stop sucking their thumbs naturally as time goes on. Roughly 1 in 3 continue through this pivotal time of teeth formation. Persistent thumbsucking can lead to issues that eventually require extensive and expensive orthodontic procedures to correct. This is not even considering the social stigma that might be attached to a child sucking their thumb past the time when most of their peers have stopped.
How to Stop Thumbsucking
The first thing to realize is that this is going to be a gradual process. The introduction of punishment associated with thumbsucking will only lead to more stress, which can exacerbate the issue. The best method is to gently explain to the child why continued thumbsucking could be harmful. Children are too young to consider these factors on their own, and consistent reminders will help them decide to stop for themselves. Try to identify a specific situation where you child begins sucking their thumb. Is it common at bedtime, or right before you drop them off for school? A slight change in the routine could help form new habits. The best way to break a bad habit is to form a new one, so it’s best to emphasize new, positive behavior, rather than avoid negative behavior.
How We Can Help
Should you find yourself in need of a little assistance, our Hutchinson office now offers a 4 week “Way to Go” success program that is designed for children aged 4-7 years old, helping them to eliminate their thumbsucking habit with staff specializing in Orofacial Myology through the IAOM. This is a specialized therapy that helps children learn to reorient their facial muscles in order to assist development of the teeth and jaw. Simple exercises will teach them what it feels like to properly close their mouth without the thumb in it. If you need a little help with your child’s thumbsucking, please come visit us so we can start helping you today.