As an experienced children’s dentist in Sandy, OR, Dr. Derek Conklin understands that for young kids, a thumb or pacifier can provide a wonderful sense of comfort and security. However, whether a child uses a pacifier, thumb, or whole hand to suck on, the habit can cause malocclusion (bad bite) to develop, which negatively impacts the development of a child’s teeth.
Born to Suck
Babies are born with a natural reflex to suck, which usually develops into a reflexive behavior that helps soothe and relax the child. For some kids, a sucking habit becomes compulsive, leading them suck on a thumb, finger, or pacifier for hours a day. When a child starts sucking his or her thumb for longer than four to six hours a day, the habit can eventually:
- Push the upper front teeth outward and the lower incisors inward.
- Stop the a child’s incisors from fully emerging from the gum line.
- Cause the top molars to align incorrectly with the bottom molars.
Fortunately, once your child quits the sucking habit, his teeth will begin to shift back to the correct positions naturally. The sooner he stops sucking on a pacifier, thumb, or finger, the healthier his permanent teeth will become. But if your child continues to suck his thumb beyond the age of five to seven, it almost guarantees that his permanent incisors will form incorrectly.
Helping Your Child Kick the Habit
Most children don’t require assistance kicking their sucking habit, as they generally quit on their own sometime between the ages of three to six. Children who suck on pacifiers tend to give the habit up even more quickly than those who suck their thumb, and parents obviously have an easier time weaning their child from the pacifier rather than any appendage. Kids who continue to suck their thumbs up until preschool age may find the social pressures of thumb-sucking at school a good motivation to quit.
The most successful treatments for thumb-sucking require getting the child involved in the process and getting her to agree to stop. By informing your child about why she should quit, staying neutral during the process, and resisting the urge to become critical, you can help prepare your child to sacrifice a familiar and comforting habit. When attempting to help your child quit, consider these tips from your children’s dentist in Sandy, OR.
- Pick a period of low-stress for your child. This means you should avoid times of challenge or change, such as when starting a new school year, moving homes, or going through a divorce.
- Talk to your dentist about the most successful practices for helping kids quit.
- Help your child put aside any objects that have become part of the sucking process and could trigger the habit.
- Implement a reminder for your child not to suck, such as placing a mitten over the hand, wrapping the thumb in a bandage, or placing a band aid or the thumb.
- Always employ positive reinforcement techniques when helping your child quit by complimenting your child on the smallest of successes in addition to the biggest gains.
- Create a reward system that highlights everyday your child goes without sucking, such as a star on the calendar or a sticker on his bedroom door.
Keep in mind that thumb-sucking is a perfectly normal habit, and often results from a child feeling frightened or anxious. Trying to scold a child into quitting the habit may only drive him towards sucking in order to feel better about any punishment received. Stay positive and supportive, and your son or daughter will find quitting a whole lot easier.
If you have other oral health questions about your child’s oral health, call the children’s dentist in Sandy, OR, Dr. Derek Conklin at Sandy Family Dentistry today.