Thumb Sucking: How to Help Your Child Break the Habit

Thumb sucking is a common habit among young children that usually goes away on its own between the ages of 2 and 4. If it continues after this point, it can start to cause long-term problems for their teeth.

If you're worried that your child isn't letting go of the habit, read these tips and find out how a children's dentist could help.

Fear

What problems can thumb sucking cause?

Thumb or finger sucking is generally harmless if it stops before their permanent teeth start to come through, but this depends on how often they do it and how forcefully.

Effects of prolonged thumb sucking can include:

  • Front teeth pushed out of alignment, which could affect their ability to bite
  • Narrowing of the palate, which could lead to crowding
  • Speech impediments, such as lisping
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lips constantly held open
  • Changing the shape of the thumb or forming calluses

Some of these effects may go away by themselves once thumb sucking is stopped, but the misalignment of teeth or changes to the palate may require orthodontic treatment to correct.

How can I stop my child sucking their thumb?

If your child needs help to break the habit, here are five strategies that may be effective for different children.

1. Discuss the problem

Your child might not know that thumb sucking is a bad habit unless you inform them. If your children are older, you can explain the dangers and discuss why they suck their thumb and what alternatives you could try instead.

2. Address the underlying cause

Paying attention to when your child sucks their thumb will tell you when and where to focus your efforts. If they tend to do it before bedtime, try to give them a different source of comfort, like a warm drink.

Thumb sucking can provide comfort when children feel angry, anxious, sad or at other times, so helping them to manage their feelings or avoid triggers could help to eliminate the habit.

3. Cover the thumb

Placing a plaster or specialised guard over their thumb will create a physical barrier to thumb sucking. Another option is to apply bitter nail polish or another bad-tasting product as a deterrent.

These methods can be effective for kids who are ready to stop, but may be too harsh as a first step.

4. Offer rewards

Reward and congratulate your child when they don't suck their thumb at a time they normally would. A reward chart can help them to track their progress as they work towards a promised gift every day they avoid the habit.

5. Talk to your dentist

If you feel you've tried everything you can, your dentist might have other suggestions. They can also screen for possible orthodontic issues related to thumb sucking and recommend early intervention that may prevent the need for longer-term treatment later.

Kids dentists in Everton Park and Mitchelton

Our caring family dentists at Swish Dental have experience helping children of all ages to get out of bad habits and improve their oral health.

To book an appointment at your nearest clinic, call our dentists in Everton Park on (07) 3355 1422 or our Mitchelton practice on (07) 3354 3341.

 
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