Babies sucking their thumb, finger, or pacifier is a natural reflex that helps them feel secure and happy. This is often used to help them relax and fall asleep, and they even do this in the womb! If your child is still doing this, the hope is they lose interest and stop this behavior between the ages of 2 to 4 (according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry®), or when their front permanent teeth are ready to come in. You don’t have much to worry about before this occurs.
However, once your child’s adult teeth erupt, the sucking action can cause issues with the healthy growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth. So, if your child continues to suck on their thumb, finger or a pacifier to soothe themselves after the age of 4, you may need to help them stop this habit. At this stage, constant and intense sucking can lead to dental issues. This may include interfering with the upper front teeth coming in properly, how the jaws and teeth-supporting bone are developing and aligning, and even a narrowing of the roof of the mouth. However, passive finger sucking is not the same as aggressive thumb sucking, which can cause issues with your child’s primary teeth.
During following checkups, our pediatric dentist will keep an eye out on how your child’s teeth are coming in and how their jaws are developing. If your child is older, their jaw may require orthodontic treatment to fix because of an open bite or crossbite. We want to make sure your child’s teeth align properly, so they can eat and speak effectively. Helping your child overcome this habit can prevent bite misalignment, saving them from needing orthodontic treatment or oral surgery down the road.
It’s easy to help your child wean off of their pacifier habit, so you can easily dispose of it. It helps to do this when they are still a baby versus when they become a toddler. Other strategies include placing a bad tasting object/paste that is safe for them, trading it in for something else or giving it to the Binky Fairy (same idea as the Tooth Fairy).
Thumb and finger sucking is a little trickier. For those children who are still dependent on their sucking habits, you can remove their thumb or finger from their mouth after they fall asleep. Another hopeful idea is when your child is of school age, and their peers will pressure them to stop. There are also dental appliances that can help remind your child not to suck their thumbs or fingers.
The most effective ways to help your child wean off of this habit is to offer positive reinforcement in the form of praise or a reward when they don’t suck on their thumb or fingers. Another option is to distract them and redirect their focus to something else.
If your child is sucking because of insecurity, you might focus your efforts on addressing the reason for the anxiety, so you can give your child the comfort they need. You can also place a bandage over the thumb or finger or a sock over their hand while they sleep. Our pediatric dental team is also happy to help you prevent this habit for your child. If you would like help or to schedule a visit, please give our team a call today!