A Root Canal

Understanding And Breaking The Thumb-Sucking Habit In Your Child

Whether it's a pacifier or a thumb, most young kids find one or the other to be convenient for self-soothing purposes. Although it is a fairly typical part of early childhood development and most kids wean themselves before preschool, it can present a risk of serious dental issues in cases where the habit drags on too long. This is especially the case for kids with a thumb-sucking habit because of the shape of the thumb. Here's a look at some of the dental problems that long-term thumb-sucking can cause and some tips to help you encourage your child to break the habit.

Is Prolonged Thumb-Sucking Really Problematic?

Your child's pediatric dentist may ask you about thumb-sucking, including how often your child does it and how long it's been going on. There are several reasons for concern if this habit continues beyond the early preschool years. Understanding the risks can help you understand why you should encourage your child to stop.

  • General Jaw Issues – If your child continues sucking their thumb into the preschool years, it can cause some general shifting in the shape of their jaw and mouth. Over time, it can cause misalignment of the jaw. This can lead to speech issues, difficulty chewing and general jaw discomfort. Additionally, it can narrow the roof of your child's mouth. The roof of a child's mouth is fairly pliable, and the suction and pressure generated by thumb-sucking may actually draw the sides of the mouth together, causing the roof of the mouth to peak. This can affect speech and tooth spacing.
  • Tooth Formation Problems – If your child is still sucking their thumb when permanent teeth start to erupt, the pressure inside his or her mouth may cause the teeth to come in at an awkward or unusual angle. This may result in teeth protruding from the jaw or not aligning correctly. This may require orthodontic braces to adjust later.

Tips for Breaking the Habit

It's one thing to recognize how bad thumb-sucking can be for your child, but getting him or her to give it up is a whole different issue. Unlike pacifiers that you can just throw away, thumb-sucking is a harder habit to break. You'll have to convince your child that it's time to give it up, which can be challenging in some cases.

  • Limit The Acceptable Times – Talk with your child about his or her thumb-sucking habit. Explain that as kids get older, it is no longer appropriate to do as often. Tell him or her that it is acceptable during nap times or bedtimes, but not during the day. Be prepared to issue reminders throughout the day for the first several days. This gives your child some adjustment time.
  • Be Encouraging and Upbeat – The more encouraging and positive you can be about this process, the easier it will be for your child to handle. Offer positive reinforcement for reducing the frequency of thumb-sucking. Praise your child for those times when he or she isn't sucking their thumb. Since kids naturally like to please parents, this increases the likelihood of success.
  • Offer an Alternative – Sometimes, the positive reinforcement and limitations aren't enough to break the habit. Instead, you may need to offer your child an alternative. Especially in cases where kids suck their thumbs for comfort, a teddy bear or blanket can offer comfort instead. In persistent cases, you may need to talk with your pediatric dentist about an orthodontic intervention device that makes it harder for kids to suck their thumb.

If your child sucks his or her thumb and you are concerned about it's long-term effects, you should talk with a pediatric dentist about it. With the information here, you can not only understand why it is a concern but also how you can help your child to stop. Visit a dentist site, like http://www.childrensdent.com for more information.