Parents make it their job to consider the health and well-being of their children. So when a young child begins to suck his/her thumb it is only normal that they worry about the effects this habit might have on their child’s oral health. Rest assured, though, that thumbsucking is a completely normal habit, and most children will stop before they begin preschool. However, if the habit persists there are several steps you can take to ensure it does not have a lasting impact on your child’s oral health.

The Truth About Thumbsucking

The most important thing to keep in mind is that thumb and finger sucking, as well as pacifier use, is perfectly acceptable in infants. In fact, babies in the womb are often seen sucking their thumbs during ultrasounds. It is comforting for a child to suck on his/her thumb and is often used as a coping method. While thumbsucking is a perfectly normal habit, there comes a time when it may begin to affect the healthy development of your child’s mouth. Experts say that if the habit persists past kindergarten, it may be time to intervene.

How it Affects Oral Health

The extent to which thumbsucking affects a child’s oral health is going to depend on a couple of factors. The first being the force with which the child sucks his/her thumb. The other factors depend on how frequent the habit is and the age of the child. Prolonged thumb sucking can affect teeth and jaw formation.

The sucking motion may cause the front teeth to protrude and jut out from the jaw, and the lower teeth to lean back into the mouth. These changes can cause the upper and lower teeth to not overlap properly. The vigorous motion of sucking can also affect the formation of the roof of the mouth.

Positive Reinforcement

If the habit persists past the age of four or five it might be time to encourage your child to stop. Since thumbsucking provides comfort it’s important to use positive reinforcement when trying to discourage the habit. This can be achieved by praising your child when he/she is not sucking, especially under duress. You may also find that that the habit is connected to anxiety your child may have. Another method is to create a visual chart with their progress. This allows them to see how much they have accomplished and feel pride in their accomplishments.

Another important resource parents have is their Dentist. If you have concerns about your child’s thumbsucking habit do not hesitate to contact your family dentist. Your dentist can offer advice to parents and encouragement to the child.

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