Thumb Sucking is a common habit for many infants and young children, but it might be time to look into ways to stop Thumb sucking as they approach becoming a toddler. Most commonly, thumbsucking starts at infancy as a way of falling asleep. But it can start at any age and is used as a self-soothing mechanism from stress and anxiety. Some children develop this habit after a divorce or the death of a loved one.
It’s important to be aware of when the habit started and other triggers so that you can better understand why they are doing it. This will prove to be helpful when breaking the habit. The longer that your child sucks their thumb, and the older they become, not only does this habit become harder to stop, it also affects various areas of your child’s emotional development and some physical issues. There are some adverse side effects that can be long-lasting as a result of prolonged Thumb Sucking.
What are the Adverse Effects of Thumb Sucking?
According to the American Dental Association, children should stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four, but definitely, before their permanent front teeth come in to prevent misalignments to the teeth and jaw. These misalignments come from the repetitive pressure of sucking. Adult teeth usually start coming in at six years old. Here are some of those effects.
- Overbites are a misalignment of the upper teeth and can affect the shape of your child’s face and smile. The front teeth protrude out from the jaw and mouth. Depending on the severity of an overbite, it could require extensive orthodontic treatments, headgear, and other methods to correct the issue.
- Open bites are a serious side effect that causes the front teeth to become misaligned. There are two different types, and both require orthodontists to prevent complications and dental misalignments when their adult teeth come in.
- Speech impediments are developed due to the changes in the teeth, jaw, and palate — causing lisps, inability to pronounce some consonant sounds, other speech impediments. And if these changes aren’t correct with proper dental care, these impediments may never be corrected.
- Skin issues can start to develop on their thumb from the constant moisture of their mouth. These conditions can become serious skin problems leading to cracked or bleeding skin that are vulnerable to infections.
- Social issues are a real problem, and if your child brings this habit into the public as they get older, it can prove to make them the target for ridicule from other children. While this might not be something that you have to think about right now, it’s a possibility the longer your child continues to suck their thumb.
While most of these issues will often resolve on their own, or most likely your child will never develop any of them, it’s important that you understand the effects of thumbsucking and is often determined by how vigorous the thumb sucking is. And most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own before many of these issues will begin. But if by the age of 4, your child is showing no signs of stopping, it may be time to step in and help.
Breaking the Habit for Good
When you are trying to get your child to stop sucking their thumb, it’s important you first understand their triggers — are they doing it when they are nervous, anxious, or part of a bedtime routine? This will be helpful in narrowing down the best technique based on their thumbsucking behavior. Finding healthier alternative options to soothe an anxious child will teach them how to cope with their anxiety, fear, or anger in a more productive way.
While working with your child to help stop thumb sucking, it’s important that you keep in mind it’s difficult for them, so you’ll need to be patient and understanding. Finding methods that suit their behaviors will be more productive. For example, if they are using it as part of their bedtime routine, work towards developing a new routine; try a glass of water beside their bed or milk before brushing their teeth.
And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a dentist, pediatrician, or other mommy friends who may have gone through the same thing. It’s important to keep in mind you will always get further through positive reinforcement rather than punishment. The sooner you can stop their habit of sucking their thumb, the better the outcome can be for them.
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