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Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for human infants, chimpanzees and other primates. In fact, based on the photographs of embryos in the womb, the sucking response begins before we are even born.

Child sucking thumb.

Did you know? Excess thumb sucking can cause developmental problems for the jaw and teeth.

It is believed that sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects make babies feel secure. This reflex seems to offer comfort and after they are born, reduces anxiety and helps induce sleep.

Pacifiers can help quiet a fussy baby, but they also teach your baby to self-soothe through their natural sucking reflex. Just make sure the pacifier is BPA-free. BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics. There is growing concern that BPA can affect the brain and certain hormones in children and infants. Many believe that pacifiers make it easier to break the sucking habit as the child matures.

Problems in the development of your child’s teeth, jaw and palate can show up if thumb sucking continues in an older child. Many experts believe that parents should discourage the use of a pacifier or thumb sucking by age four.

If thumb sucking continues beyond age five or six, the sucking pressure can begin to make permanent changes to the mouth. This can produce one or more of these deformities:

  • Front teeth that jut forward
  • Bite surface formation impairment
  • Misalignment of permanent teeth

While these issues can be corrected, it’s far better to prevent them. Monitor your child’s thumb sucking and assist him or her to discontinue the habit when appropriate.

Most children stop sucking before they are four years old. If they don’t, here are some tips that may help:

  • Reduce the cause of any anxiety your child may be feeling.
  • Involve your child and have them choose the method of stopping.
  • Bandage their thumb or place their hands in a sock at night.
  • Be sure to praise your child when they are not sucking.
  • Ask us to prescribe a bitter medication to paint onto their thumb.

Don’t panic. Most thumb sucking will end on its own without any drama or intervention. Sometimes the best way is to simply ignore the behavior. Peer pressure will often prompt your child to discontinue thumb sucking without a word.

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