How Do I Help My Child End Their Thumb-Sucking Habit?

February 4, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — drmedaugh @ 3:02 am
little girl sucking her thumb

When a child sucks a pacifier or their thumb, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, these are great coping mechanisms for infants to comfort themselves. Once a child reaches a certain age, however, problems begin to arise as their oral cavity is developing and teeth are growing in. During Children’s Dental Health Month, keep reading to learn from your children’s dentist in Belchertown about how thumb-sucking can affect your child and what you can do to help them stop.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

If your infant starts sucking their thumb or is only appeased when you put a pacifier in their mouth, you’re not doing anything wrong! They’re actually born with an instinct to do this, and it’s a completely healthy and natural habit.

You shouldn’t keep them from doing it either, because thumb-sucking can be an early tool to help them cope when they’re away from you in order to feel safe and comfortable. A physician-conducted study even found that you can reduce your child’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by offering them a pacifier whenever they nap or sleep.

When Does a Child Need to Stop Thumb Sucking?

It’s safe to say thumb-sucking and pacifier use isn’t harmful to infants. However, once your child is 3-4 years old, you’ll want to start encouraging them to break the habit. At this point, their mouth will be in its key development stage. The constant intense, forceful suction from this habit can cause their oral cavity to develop with a misaligned bite or jutted-out teeth, which will require serious orthodontic intervention down the road. It can also lead to narrowed airways that can make breathing difficult.

How Can I Help Wean My Child from Sucking Their Thumb or a Pacifier?

There are a few different ways you can help wean your child from their pacifier or thumb, depending on which they prefer:

  • Cut the nipple of a pacifier or poke a hole in it to make the sucking sensation less satisfying for your child.
  • Sticker charts are a great way to keep track of how many days your little one hasn’t sucked their thumb or pacifier, making them feel like they’re a big kid now!
  • Keep their hands busy if they’re bored or nervous and want to suck their thumb or pacifier.
  • Give them a non-food reward like letting them choose the movie for family movie night to encourage them to break their habit.

With positive reinforcement and a little time, your child should be able to kick their habit. Then, you’ll be able to rest assured their smile will develop healthily, and they’ll be less likely to face severe orthodontic issues as they get older.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Medaugh earned his dental doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania as a Pierre Fauchard Scholar. He’s a member of the American Dental Association. A married father of four, Dr. Medaugh knows a thing or two about kids. If you are looking for a children’s dentist, he can provide an array of pediatric dentistry services. Be sure to ask about the Zero Cavity Club for your little one! You can schedule an appointment for them on his website or by calling (413) 323-4335.

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