How to Help Your Child Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit

How to Help Your Child Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit

Your child may have a thumb-sucking habit, which can seem cute when they’re little. But it may seem less cute as they grow older. There’s a good reason to encourage them to give up the habit: It can have a significant effect on the growth of their mouths.

Extended thumb-sucking can significantly alter your child’s jaw and teeth. It might take some effort to discourage the habit, but it may prevent the future need for pediatric orthodontic work. Joseph Z. Yousefian, DMD, MS of Yousefian Orthodontics for Children, Teens and Adults explains more about how to help your child stop sucking their thumb.

Why do children suck their thumbs?

We’ve seen on ultrasound that children suck their thumbs even in the womb. Many children continue to suck their thumbs after they’re born for comfort and security — even happiness. Thumb-sucking becomes a way that children soothe themselves.

About 90 percent of newborns suck their thumb. Most children eventually give up the habit on their own by age 2-4.

What happens if your child continues to suck their thumb?

Thumb-sucking may start out as a harmless habit, but eventually, you need them to stop. The American Dental Association says that most children stop sucking their thumbs by age 4. Many experts discourage trying to stop the habit in kids under 5. But once adult teeth come in, the habit can can alter your child’s jaw development.

Sucking their thumbs can affect your child’s mouth growth, changes to the roof of their mouth (called the palate), and the alignment of their teeth. If children do not stop sucking their thumbs, they may develop what’s called an “open bite,” which means that their top and bottom teeth don’t line up correctly.

How to break the thumb-sucking habit

If you want your child to give up the thumb-sucking habit, you’ll need to help — but you need to do it the right way if you want it to be effective.

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement works well to discourage bad habits. Some suggestions include:

Offer gentle reminders

When you notice your child sucking their thumb, gently remind them that they’re trying to give up the habit. There’s no need to yell or be stern; in fact, such tactics are more likely to increase their anxiety, which might increase their frequency of thumb-sucking.

Help to identify triggers

Pay attention to when your child sucks their thumb. Is it when they’re tired, lonely, bored? Identifying when they’re most likely to suck their thumb can help you with finding substitute behaviors as alternatives.

If you want to help your child stop sucking their thumb and none of the above works, it may be time to make an appointment for a consultation. Contact our office in Bellevue, Washington, by calling or making an appointment online.

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