How to Ditch Thumb Sucking

Since babies naturally have sucking and rooting reflexes, sucking their thumb or finger is a common habit, and it’s often something developed before birth. Thumb sucking often makes babies feel more secure, which can make it turn into a habit when they are ready to sleep or they need to be soothed. In most cases, kids ditch thumb sucking themselves when they are toddlers. However, some kids have a tougher time kicking this habit, which can lead to oral health problems as their mouth and teeth develop.

Consequences of Thumb Sucking

Unfortunately, thumb sucking can have some serious consequences if it’s a habit that continues. The thumb can put pressure on soft tissue, teeth, and bone, resulting in problems with jaw growth and the positioning of teeth. It’s possible to push upper front teeth out while pushing the lower incisors in, or it can prevent the child’s front teeth from completely erupting. Sometimes it can stop normal development of the lower jaw or narrow the palate’s soft tissue, causing a crossbite.

When It’s Time to Intervene

Thumb sucking can cause problems in baby teeth, although it becomes a bigger concern if a child’s permanent teeth are coming in. Research shows that thumb sucking can have an impact on teeth even when children are toddlers, and while the American Academy of Pediatrics says you usually don’t need to intervene until about age five, parents may want to start working with their children on ditching the habit while children are still toddlers. Many kids will quit the habit on their own, but others may need a bit of help kicking this habit for the sake of their oral health.

Tips for Stopping Thumb Sucking

What can you do to help your child ditch this habit before it becomes an oral health concern? Here’s a few tips that can help.

Tip #1 – Have a Talk with Your Child

Start by talking to your child about the thumb sucking habit. Getting your child involved in the process of stopping this habit is the best way to deal with the situation. Give your child information on why thumb sucking can be a problem and encourage him to begin taking measures to stop the habit. Kids are smart, so letting them know why they should stop can help. You can also use some pictures of what can happen to their teeth to drive home your point about kicking the thumb sucking.

Tip #2 – Identify the Triggers

Take the time to identify the triggers for thumb sucking. Is your child sucking his thumb as a way to cope with stress? If so, figure out the underlying issue and find ways to offer comfort to your child in other ways, such as offering some reassuring words or a hug. Giving your child a stuffed animal or pillow to squeeze for comfort can help as well. In many cases, alleviating issues causing anxiety and stress to your child can eliminate this habit.

Tip #3 – Practice Self-Awareness

Your child may not always realize that he is sucking his thumb, so practice self-awareness. If you see your child sucking his thumb, gently ask him if he’s aware that he’s sucking his thumb. Gently offer reminders to stop, but do it without ridiculing, criticizing, or scolding your child. Make sure you don’t do this in front of others or you risk embarrassing yourself.

Tip #4 – Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the most effective when you’re trying to help your child ditch the thumb sucking habit. Offer praise when you notice that your child isn’t sucking his thumb. You can also provide some small rewards to your child for avoiding the habit. Consider creating a calendar that tracks your child’s progress in kicking the habit that has a reward system each week with small rewards. You can offer a larger reward if the habit is stopped for a month or longer to continue reinforcing their good work on stopping this habit.

Tip #5 – Get Encouragement from Your Child’s Dentist

Encouragement from your child’s dentist can also be helpful when you’re working to help your child kick thumb sucking for good. Your dentist can talk to your child about the importance of stopping, backing up what you’ve already discussed with your child.

If your child is sucking his thumb, work with him at home to stop the habit and get your dentist involved, too. Set up an appointment with your dentist today to talk about thumb sucking and to make sure any oral problems related to thumb sucking are addressed quickly.