Thumb Sucking and How to Prevent it

Denham Springs Orthodontist

Several babies, toddlers, and even children develop a fascination with sucking on their thumbs. Seemingly from the moment that they become aware of their toes and fingers, the little digits find their way into the mouths of little ones even while in the womb. However, when is it a good time to consider thumb-sucking prevention?

Although it may seem cute and innocent at first, as your baby ages into toddlerhood and childhood, the habit begins to become ingrained within their behavioral patterns. As you worry about the hygienic consequences once your little one begins to socialize, people around you start sharing stories that children suckling on their thumbs for too long can create a multitude of dental and oral problems, in general, later in development.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

Although it appears that something instinctual allows for the preference of one thumb over the other, all babies are born with an overwhelming need to suckle. This is a natural reflex that is critical to their survival because children derive their nourishment traditionally from the breasts of their mother, making thumb-sucking prevention difficult or even counterintuitive during infancy. Thumb sucking can also be seen as a means to self-soothe and reduce anxiety.

When Should My Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

It’s normal for several parents to have concerns that prolonged thumb-sucking could lead to issues with their child’s jaw, mouth, teeth, and more. The American Dental Association posits that most growing children will cease their thumb sucking between the ages of 2 and 4 without adult intervention. In fact, studies show that placing too much emphasis on early quitting could result in the opposite effect. So long as the child is passively resting their thumb in their mouth and not powerfully sucking away at it, especially if done at night, then there is even less to be concerned about.

If you’re looking to help your child quit their habit of lapping at their digits, there are several thumb sucking prevention tricks that you can take advantage of:

  • Using a Finger Guard

    Finger guards can be found from a multitude of online suppliers and serve as only slightly invasive thumb sucking prevention tools. Some are made of plastic, and others are made of more natural materials. It could sometimes make your child use their hand a little bit less, but it is still flexible enough to provide them with use of their arm in the long run.

  • Using a Hand Stopper

    Thumb sucking prevention can be aided by a flexible brace that affixes to the elbow of your child in order to keep the arm straight. This means that it limits their range of motion that would otherwise allow the child to suck their thumb at will. Although this may seem a bit extreme, it may be the only tool that helps if your child’s habit is severe.

  • Taking Them to the Dentist

    Sometimes it takes a child a little outside help from a non-family member in order to help kick the habit of sucking their thumb. Pediatric dental offices are staffed with professionals who have extensive training in persuading kids to adopt good oral hygiene. Therefore, your mind will be able to rest easy knowing that a professional is keeping track of your child’s oral development over time and that their thumb-sucking habit isn’t causing any long-term effects.

  • Set Firm Rules and Boundaries

    It’s possible to slowly phase out thumb sucking by establishing rules around when such behavior is more appropriate, such as limiting it to only during bedtime and never sucking their thumb in public. This could help expedite your child giving up sucking on their thumb naturally all on their own as the window of appropriate time is continually narrowed.

Although thumb-sucking may seem catastrophic, it isn’t anything to make a mountain out of a molehill over. Most children will be able to break the habit on their own beyond the age of four years, and although it may seem embarrassing once your child has entered the public space such as kindergarten, passing your anxieties on to them can frequently cause more problems. Our Denham Springs Clinic is sensitive to parents who seek proactive thumb sucking prevention techniques, and we are ready to assist you in setting your little one up for a successful future!