Thumb sucking may appear to be a rather harmless habit, but it can have serious implications for your child. New research shows that even short term sucking can leave long lasting damage among children. Many children suffer from thumb sucking, especially from birth to 2 years old. Though thumb sucking is often associated with a child’s need to seek food, this is not always the case in all children. Sometimes, they may also indulge in thumb sucking when they are feeling anxious, bored or sleepy; or at a time when they are teething. Some kids also suck their thumbs out of shyness. But the good news is that most children get rid of this habit by the time they are 5 years old.
Thumb sucking that persists beyond that age, is cause for worry, especially when your child’s permanent teeth begin to appear. Vigorous thumb sucking during that time can result in
- Crooked teeth,
- Upper front teeth protruding and lower teeth going inward,
- Altering the shape of the jawbone and affecting the growth of the palate,
- Poor tongue placement, which in turn causes swallowing problems,
- Infections around the fingernails which will then re-infect the mouth, teeth and any other parts that your child touches such as the eyes,
- Impaired speech ability,
- A poor smile which can lead to low self-confidence.
Breaking the habit
As a parent, you must realize that the sooner you break the habit of thumb sucking in your child, the better it is for his or her the overall well-being. If you notice that the child is not able to get rid of the habit on their own, you need to pitch in and help them. Avoid being harsh towards them during this process as it will only reinforce the habit and make it worse. Instead, try doing it with persuasion and reasoning. Explain to them about its harmful effects and reward them when they comply.
It’s also been noted that more often than not, children suck their thumbs for reasons of insecurity. Find the root cause of these insecurities and eliminate the causes of anxiety in your child. If your efforts fail, you can get your dentist to explain the ill effects of thumb sucking to your child.
There are a few tried and tested methods that have been used to help children to stop thumb sucking. They include:
- Having a children hold a ball in their hands while sleeping,
- Taping the end of the thumb,
- Rewarding children when they don’t suck,
- Involve them in choosing the method that they think will help them stop,
- Expert advice. Don’t hesitate or delay seeking expert advice if the habit persists or if you notice that the child has developed complications. Pay a visit to a pediatric dentist.
- NEVER put cayenne pepper on child’s thumb or fingers as it can prove to be fatal.
- Using the thumb kit. You can also use devices such as a thumb guard which you can attach to a child’s wrist. The kit comes with instructional video and is a very useful device.