Sucking is a natural reflex and is normal for infants and toddlers to use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. More than 90% of children younger than age two will suckle in order to feel secure, happy, and at bedtime in order to provide themselves a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is somewhat reflexive, it may occur during and/or induce sleep. In the early stages of your child’s life, thumb sucking is completely natural and shouldn’t cause any alarm within your household.
Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth (age six) can alter craniofacial growth and lead to orthodontic problems. The intensity, frequency and duration, along with your child’s age, will influence the level of our concern. The doctors at Salt Lake Pediatric Dentistry generally recommend that parents ignore a thumb or pacifier habit for children younger than age three. We are a bit more concerned for those children over age four. We ask parents of these children to monitor their child with regard to the frequency, intensity and duration of the sucking habit. If all three variables are decreasing over time then intervention is not required. Often peer pressure is helpful in getting preschool aged children to stop a habit.
Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, please talk to the doctors at Salt Lake Pediatric Dentistry.
The following are suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:
- Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
- Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. We suggest you provide comfort and focus on making your child feel secure.
- Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when they are separated from their parents.
- Focus on wanting their new teeth to grow in “pretty and straight”.
- Suggest that if the thumb is in the way, that it is more difficult for the new teeth to come in “pretty and straight”. Ask for your child’s help to make this happen.
- The doctors at Salt Lake Pediatric Dentistry have several options to help in situations that require intervention. You may want to look at a book on the topic that many parents consider helpful.