Thumb Sucking--How to kick the 'habit'

  • Published
  • By Capt. (Dr.) Aaron Wulff
  • 22nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental flight
Coinciding with the Department of Defense designation of April as Month of the Military Child, the 22nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental clinic wants to ensure that protecting a military child's smile is highlighted, along with the important role the children play in the armed forces community.

Your child's oral habits (thumb or finger sucking, pacifier use, etc.) may concern you as a parent. Questions might arise about whether it is harmful or not, what age your child should stop and what complications could occur if your child does not stop.

Sucking is a natural reflex for babies. Infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers or pacifiers. Sucking may give them a sense of security and make them happy. Placing a thumb in their mouth provides something familiar when they feel insecure, such as when they are separated from their parents. Additionally, young children often suck in the evenings or at other times when they are tired.

Prolonged thumb, finger or pacifier sucking may cause problems when permanent front teeth begin to erupt. This can happen as early as age 5. Continued sucking can affect tooth alignment and proper growth of the mouth.

A major factor in the determination of future dental problems is the intensity and duration of the sucking. Some children may rest their thumbs passively in their mouths and will experience little to no detrimental changes to their mouth and teeth. Others may vigorously suck their thumbs to the point of causing severe orthodontic problems. Pacifiers affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs, however, pacifier use is often an easier habit to break.

Most children will break their habit on their own between the ages of 2 and 4 years. School aged children are more inclined to stop due to peer pressure.

If a child does not stop on their own, the habit should be discouraged after the age of 4. Parents are reminded that excessive pressure to cease the habit can do more harm than good.

Instead, parents should encourage their child to quit by praising them for not sucking rather than scolding them for doing continued thumb sucking, especially during difficult periods such as when they are separated from their parents. Other options may be available from your dentist such as mouth appliances.

For more tips and methods about thumb sucking, or for any other questions regarding your child's dental care, consult the family dentist.

Contributing source: American Dental Association