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Thumb Sucking

By admin @ Dec 12, 2014

Infants have a natural instinct to suck as a way of nourishing and soothing themselves. Often, this leads to the child sucking on their fingers, a blanket, a stuffed animal or their thumb. Usually, this habit is given up by age 4. If it continues, it can be extremely detrimental to the development of their teeth and jaws causing crooked teeth, an incorrect bite, speech problems and/or open-mouth breathing. This habit may result in psychological trauma if it continues into school age when the other children tease them.

What should a parent do?

  • Thumb sucking generally starts when a pacifier is taken away too early when the child is not ready to give it up.  Pacifiers are less likely to create the same developmental problems [by distributing forces over greater area], are usually discarded by the child at an earlier age and are easier to hide than a thumb.  Between age 1 and 2, limit the use of the pacifier to bedtime or as a reward (sometimes needed to calm the child).  It's best to use the pacifier before they discover their thumb.

  • Cut the rubber part off the pacifier (not in front of the child) and show it.  Tell them it's broken.  Let the child throw it in the garbage.  This allows the child to see that it's gone and the child took part in getting rid of it.  This works best if they haven't found the thumb as an alternative.

  • Use a little reverse psychology.  It's not fair to the other fingers that the thumb gets everything.  You have suck all the fingers at once or give each finger the same attention.  Use a timer, and the child usually gets tired of the process.  This works best if done by someone other than the parent.  The child knows the parent wants them to stop.

  • If the thumb sucking is during the day, discuss the problem with them to discourage the habit. Placing a band-aid on their thumb as a reminder may help. Be positive and praise them when they remember. And reward them for their success.

  • It is more difficult to control thumb sucking when the child is asleep, because the child is unaware of this involuntary action. So, try this habit-breaking technique that is usually successful within two weeks. Before your child goes to bed, wrap a 2-inch wide ace bandage lightly around their fully extended arm [straight]. Start about 3 inches from their armpit and continue down past the elbow. This will not prevent your child from putting their thumb into their mouth. However, as soon as they fall asleep, the tension created by bending the elbow will pull the thumb from their mouth.

If your child is still sucking on their thumb or anything else by the time their permanent teeth erupt [around age 6], please call it to the attention of our office.

Photo credit:  mychildhealth.net

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