Thumbsucking | Pediatric Dentistry in St. Johns

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there's a thumb-sucker (or a former thumb-sucker) in your family. Is this cause for worry?

In most cases, the answer is no. However, it's important to start by paying attention early on to infant oral health and then your child's habit for any potential to affect his oral health. Weaver & Stratton, a St. Johns and Orange Park Pediatric Dentist, provides you with the following answers on thumb-sucking starting with infant oral health.

What Is Normal Thumb-Sucking Behavior?

Most children begin sucking their thumb or finger from a very young age; many even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them. However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower his chances of continuing to suck his thumb). If your child is still sucking when his permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.

What Signs Should I Watch For?

First, take note of how your child sucks their thumb. If they sucks passively, with their thumb gently resting inside their mouth, they are less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, they are an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on their mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child's thumb-sucking may be affecting their oral health, please give us a call or bring them in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

Should you need to help your child end their habit, follow these guidelines:

  1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when they don't suck.
  2. Put a band-aid on their thumb or a sock over their hand at night. Let them know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.
  3. Start a progress chart and let them put a sticker up every day that they don't suck their thumb. If they make it through a week without sucking, they get to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.) When they have filled up a whole month reward them with something great (a ball glove or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in their treatment will increase their willingness to break the habit.
  4. If you notice your child sucking when they are anxious, work on alleviating their anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb-sucking.
  5. Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
  6. Explain clearly what might happen to their teeth if they keeps sucking their thumb.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the thumb-sucking habit.

Find out more information about starting good habits early on with dental care for your baby and pediatric dental FAQs.

Pediatric Dentistry, St. Johns (904) 264-KIDS (5437)