Getting That Thumb Out of Your Child’s Mouth
When should you attempt to break your child’s thumb-sucking habit? How should you do it? Should you even worry about it? Most children who suck their thumbs (or fingers) as infants stop on their own by the time they turn 5 years old. Generally, thumb-sucking’s impact on mouth growth and tooth alignment—a child’s bite—arises only if the habit continues after permanent teeth have begun to come in.
If your child’s fifth birthday is approaching—or has passed—and he or she continues thumb-sucking, consider these strategies:
- Ask your child for ideas about how he or she can learn to stop thumb-sucking. If your child is not ready, explain that you’ll be there to help when the time is right.
- “Catch” your child when not sucking, and offer praise. Conversely, if your child seems at times to be unaware of sucking, gently point it out to promote self-awareness of the habit.
- If your child’s anxiety in particular situations fosters sucking, offer alternatives, such as a stuffed animal or blanket to snuggle with (not, of course, to suck).
- Compromise with your child by giving full permission to thumb-suck at bedtime or naptime, but asking him or her to try very hard to stop doing it during the course of the day.
Two products are marketed for breaking the thumb-sucking habit, but some doctors and psychologists have suggested that they may cause more harm than good:
- Nasty-tasting liquids. Sold over-the-counter just for this purpose, these bitter or sour preparations are applied to the favored thumb or finger. This method works in some children, but not in others.
- Plastic thumb guard. Used mostly at night and held in place with a wristband your child can’t remove, the thumb guard can be quite effective, although can create anxiety in the child.
As a last resort, we can fit your child with an intraoral appliance. This device physically prevents the sucking motion. It usually remains in place for three to six months, after which the habit should be broken.
Before you decide on a course of action, come see Dr. Jared and our clinical team. We can explain to your child—as we have to countless other children—why thumb-sucking can cause trouble for his or her future teeth. Then we can work together to develop an individualized plan to break the habit.
Give us a call at (509)-891-7070 to schedule today!