Thumb sucking is a concern of many parents.  Is this a serious problem or one that will go away naturally?  Should I allow my baby to use a pacifier?  Does it damage the mouth or teeth?  Does it represent a more serious psychological problem?  How can I help him or her stop?

These are some of the questions that Dentistry for Children will try to answer in this blog.

When Does a Baby Sucking a Thumb or Fist Become a Problem?

It's hopeless to prevent a baby from sucking behavior.

At a Certain Age, Thumb Sucking is Totally Acceptable Behavior

Before a baby even crawls, you can observe him or her sucking their thumb, fingers, hands, toes, and, pacifiers.  And when they begin to crawl, the fun really begins.  That is when they put almost everything into their mouth.

Most authorities consider thumb sucking to be a natural reflex.  And it is a very normal early activity for babies.  Many parents are said to be happy when the child discovers his hand.  And then as time passes, the worry begins.

When Should We Begin to Worry?

However, most authorities say there is little reason to worry until they approach 5 years of age.

And most children stop on their own by the time they are 3 – 5 years old.

At about this time, they begin to develop other “coping skills.”  These skills may include language development.  These new skills may be simply more interesting.  Whatever the reason, they usually stop thumb sucking on their own.

But for some kids, thumb sucking or finger sucking is harder to stop.  Mayo Clinic points out this is not a serious problem until certain events begin to happen.

“Thumb sucking isn’t usually a concern until a child’s permanent teeth come in. At this point, thumb sucking might begin to affect the roof of the mouth (palate) or how the teeth line up. The risk of dental problems is related to how often, how long and how intensely your child sucks on his or her thumb.”

Why Do Babies Begin the Thumb Sucking Habit?

We all find ways to enjoy ourselves, to relax, or maybe just to escape boredom. It might be a football game or visiting with a friend.  For children, it is a little different.

Mayo Clinic’s view is essentially the same for children.  “Because thumb sucking makes babies feel secure, some babies might eventually develop a habit of thumb sucking when they’re in need of soothing or going to sleep.”

More Reasons Babies Begin the Habit Related (From the United Kingdom)

Just Stop

Super Tooth Man Says,
Just Say No!

You’re probably not familiar with a Children’s Care group in the United Kingdom.  However, They won the Best Children’s Care UK in the Oral B Awards in 2017.  One of their offerings is a Thumb Sucking Clinic.  And they suggested a list of reasons that young children begin sucking their thumbs.  Here are some of their “Becauses.”

  • Because they’re trying to find a substitute for sucking on a bottle. Sucking on a bottle yields milk.  It tastes good and makes them feel good.  So, they suck on their thumbs when they’re off the bottle.
  • Because sucking is one of the babies’ natural reflexes. Babies have a natural urge to suck. They probably practiced this habit while they were still in the womb and perfected it as infants.
  • Because it makes them feel secure and happy and helps them learn about their world to suck on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects.
  • Because it is soothing and helps them fall asleep at bedtime and to lull themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Because they are tired, afraid, restless, bored, sick, or trying to adjust to challenges such as starting daycare or preschool.
  • Why does thumb sucking happen?  Young children have different ways of “unwinding.”  Many turn to a blanket or stuffed animal for comfort.  Others use their thumbs or fingers as part of their routine to find comfort and to soothe themselves.

Crisis Point: Have We Reached it?

Twins “Ashley” and “Bella” have reached the magic age of 4 – 5 years old.  And they are still sucking their thumb.  Is this a crisis point? As we stated earlier, the real crisis begins when damage to teeth becomes a possibility.  Extended thumb-sucking can cause severe misalignment and poor spacing.  It may “push the teeth outward.”  In severe cases, “it can even change the formation of the roof of the mouth.”  And it could lead to problems in speaking.  These problems could include not being able to say T’s or D’s and “thrusting out the tongue when talking.”

Thumb Sucking Becomes Socially Unacceptable Behavior at the Crisis Point

Inappropriate Behavior for a 5 Yr Old.

Experts at Healthy Children explain this difficulty in these terms.  “If your child sucks strongly on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers beyond 2 to 4 years of age, this behavior may affect the shape of his mouth.”  And it can affect “how his teeth are lining up.”

They continued.  “If your child stops sucking on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers before his permanent front teeth come in, there’s a good chance his bite will correct itself.  However, if the bite does not correct itself and the upper adult teeth are sticking out, orthodontic treatment may be needed.  The teeth will need to be realigned.  This reduces the chance of broken front teeth.

So, our answer would have to be yes.  Bella and Ashton have reached the crisis point or very close to it.  Let’s see how we can help them.

So, How Do We Stop Thumb Suckling?

Here are suggestions that have been offered by professionals:

1.   Declare a “One-month moratorium on the discussion.”  In other words, don’t mention it for a whole month.   This suggestion presumes a resistance or power struggle.  It is like an argument that runs, “No I won’t.”  “Yes, you will,” and so on.  The theory is that letting the “power struggle” be forgotten may also “extinguish the behavior.” The second part of this plan is to establish a “progress chart.”  Then give a prize at the end of each week and a larger prize for no thumb-sucking behavior at the end of the month.

In this scenario, the child gets to be part of the plan.   Mom and child decide together how many slip-ups will be allowed each week.  Then the two of you choose stickers to put on the poster to show progress.

2.   Another tip that sometimes works is to place a “bitter-tasting liquid on the nail (not directly on the finger), especially at night, as a reminder not to suck.” There are numerous products like this sold over the counter.

But, home remedies can also work.  Perfume obviously doesn’t taste good.  Also, using gloves, finger splint or other reminder devices may be effective.

Thumb Sucking: The logical approach

The Talk. Some Children Can Join You in a Logical Approach with a Thumb Sucking Problem

3. Mayo Clinic Suggests a logical approach.  Sometimes, with specific children, simply explaining the problem is enough. Sometimes letting them know the difficulties that are caused by this habit stops the concerned thumb-sucker.

4. Use Positive Re-enforcement.  Re-enforcing the achievements with a special trip to the movies, stickers, small collectibles can be very helpful.

5. Find the Identity Triggers:  Try to find out what situations trigger the thumb sucking behavior.  Is it riding in the car? Or tension in the home? Or maybe even fear of an animal. 

6. Talk to Your Dentist:  At Dentistry for Children, you will find all the tips and help you could possibly need.  And Please, Remember. Gentle support is always better than a scolding.

Have You Noticed…Christmas is on the Way?

We found a perfect holiday carol to share with you to the tune of Jingle Bells.  Featured on Pinterest, we have a feeling Floridians will be posting more of these! Ashley and Bella guarantee you cannot sing and suck your thumb at the same time.  Please Enjoy!

Florida Jingle Bells

Serious problems related to thumb sucking can cause misalignment of teeth.

Dashing through the sand, in a rented min-van.

Driving by the bay, laughing all the way.

Tourists Drive too slow, everywhere you go,

Oh, what fun it is to live  in sunny F.L.A.