How Thumb Sucking Affects Children

How Thumb Sucking Affects Children

May 06, 2017

Thumb Sucking: Many parents are grappling with the concept of their child sucking their thumb from the day their child is born well into their preschool or elementary school years. It’s natural for infants to suck their thumbs, but at a certain age it can cause harm to one’s teeth and future oral health. It is understood that thumb-sucking during infancy is a stimulus used to help the young who do not get enough stimulation from sucking on a bottle or mother’s nipple alone. But, at a certain age it can cause severe damage to the skin on the thumb and the future oral health of the child.

At a certain age when teeth begin growing in the thumb sucking can push the teeth outwards. This is the most common between ages 2 and 4 this is the most common. Sucking thumbs past ages 3 or 4 can be a sign to parents to put their money aside for orthodontal care in the future as it will likely be needed. Moreover, sucking thumbs constantly can subject the skin on the thumb to the warm, moist environment of the mouth which can cause the skin on the thumb to become hardened, red, and sometimes even cracking and bleeding if the thumb sucking is hard and intense enough for long enough. This can lead to infections to the finger.

At a certain age, generally around pre-school to kindergarten-age thumb sucking becomes an unacceptable social habit that will get the child picked on and teased. Terms like “thumb sucker” or questions like “Why can’t you stop sucking your thumb” or comments like “Don’t touch that your fingers were in your mouth!” can ruin the confidence of a child with a terrible thumb-sucking habit. Not to mention being annoying to constantly answer why they suck their thumbs. Peers can reject children who perform abnormal behaviors, and that can begin at a younger age than we like to think.

To a certain age pacifiers can help provide a sucking tool for children rather than using their thumb. The pacifier cannot be over-sucked like the skin on a thumb that can become damaged and even infected. Provide other habits to help distract from thumb-sucking as well such as rocking, movement, or stimulation for the hands that keep them away from the mouth.

Provide a relaxing atmosphere that does not regularly “stress” your child into a habit like thumb sucking that can be detrimental to their skin and teeth later on in childhood. Show and tell how the thumb sucking will damage their teeth over time, not to mention the skin on their hand. By 2-3 years old children are old enough to understand that something is “good” or “bad”. Teach thumb sucking as something they should try to avoid when at all possible.

Trying offering things like a rubber glove or Band-aids or tape to a thumb sucker, especially at night while they are sleeping and may not even know they are doing it. That covering can protect the skin from splitting open and causing pain, and the bad taste may even wake the child up so they stop the behavior all together. Offer incentives to older children pre-school aged or older if they go so long without YOU seeing them sucking their thumb they get a NON-FOOD reward (i.e. stickers, pencil, etc.). Most kids love to compete for prizes. If this is a problem at school or daycare get the teachers or supervisors involved in the game. Provide the rewards at home.

If nothing seems to work, possibly trying to talk to the child’s dentist may help. The child’s dentists will be interested in helping as it helps, as well as to avoid future problems with the teeth growing outwards from the constant pushing, pressing, and pressure of thumb sucking. Babies might prefer thumbs as they are permanently attached, all taste similar, and are convenient to use; however, any dentist prefers pacifiers as the effects on the teeth are not the same and they can lose those at a certain age when sucking on things is no longer appropriate. Thumbs however are not so easy to get rid of!

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about us visit us here or call us 909-465-1016. The Ramona Dentistry Team “Where Family Comes First”
Click to listen highlighted text!