Kid's Thumb Sucking - Middleton Bank Dental
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Kid’s Thumb Sucking

How to help your child with Thumb Sucking

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Does your child suck his or her thumb?

The thinking was that as long as a child stopped sucking by the time they developed their permanent teeth there would be minimal impact on the mouth and jaw, now research shows that thumb or finger sucking can have an impact even at a younger age – as young as 2 to 4 years old.

Hayes, a diplomat and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, says that the sucking puts pressure on the sides of the upper jaw and the soft tissue on the roof of the mouth. As a result, the upper jaw can narrow, causing the teeth to not meet properly from the top to the bottom. Although this can be fixed with braces, it can also cause speech problems such as a lisp that may need to be corrected in therapy.

The long-term effects of thumb or finger sucking don’t stop there. If a child has a cross-bite, a condition in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, it can make it worse. A “thumb hole” in the roof of the mouth, which comes from sucking, can cause the teeth in the back of the mouth to take on the brunt of chewing. This causes an imbalance across the teeth and affects the structure of the mouth and jaw as they are growing with the child.

“The trick is to work with the child to lessen her dependency on thumb sucking or finger sucking before the coping skill turns into a habit,” Hayes says.

When your child reaches the preschool age, it might be tempting to pop his thumb out of his mouth every time he starts to suck, especially if you think it might be affecting the growth and development of his teeth and jaw. But you may want to consider resisting that urge and use a different strategy.

Adults don’t realize how anxiety-provoking growing up is for children, and sucking their thumbs or fingers is a soothing activity that can help reduce their anxiety. So if your child is approaching preschool and still sucking away, here’s how to handle it correctly:

  1. Try to limit the time that your child sucks his thumb to his bedroom or in the house, not in public.  Explain to him that this is a bed activity during nap time and at night.
  2. Try not to turn it into a confrontation. Try to recognize him and praise him when he’s not sucking his thumb instead of criticizing when he is.
  3. Don’t stop your child if he tries to suck his thumb or fingers after being hurt or injured. At this time they need to be in their comfort zone.
  4. Practice self-awareness with your child. When your child is sucking his thumb, ask him, ‘Do you know you are sucking your thumb now?’ If he says no, help him recognize that, and find another way to soothe him if he needs it, like a blanket or stuffed animal.
  5. Come up with creative ways to help your child understand that he is growing up and one day won’t suck his thumb anymore.  Ask your child, ‘Do you think Bob the Builder sucks his thumb?’ Then they’ll think about, and start to process whether they want to be sucking their thumbs anymore.
  6. Remember that a child will grow out of the need for thumb sucking or finger sucking when he’s good and ready.


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