Between the ages of two and four, most children will naturally stop sucking their fingers, thumbs, or other objects. When children continue these habits for a longer period of time, their teeth may be affected, resulting in the need for early orthodontic treatment. It is imperative that thumbsucking is completely stopped by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. This will prevent problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment.
Keep in mind that these habits are perfectly normal for young children and not all habits are equally damaging. Children who aggressively suck their fingers or thumb will have more damage than those who passively rest their fingers in their mouth. Make sure that you discuss your child’s habit with your dentist to determine if corrective action is needed!
Why Does My Child Have This Habit?
Babies and young children suck on their fingers or other objects because it provides them with a feeling of security. Sucking is a natural reflex. Some infants start sucking their fingers or thumbs, even before they are born. Young babies learn by using their senses. They explore the world around them, by touching or mouthing objects that are colorful and fascinating.
Are Pacifiers Safer Than Thumbsucking?
Pacifiers have the same effect on teeth and jaws, as a thumb or finger. The only difference is that a pacifier habit is often easier to break, because pacifiers can be taken away. Many children understand that pacifiers are for babies and they are willing to give them up by age two.
Thumb or Finger Sucking & “Loveys”
The child’s sucking habit is occasionally associated with a “lovey” or stuffed animal. Gradually weaning the “lovey” or stuffed animal from the child, can also help break the thumb or finger sucking.
Should I Be Concerned?
Parents shouldn’t be overly concerned about thumbsucking in very small children. your dentist will keep a close eye on your child’s teeth and jaw development. If the habit is excessive and frequent, your dentist may recommend intervention after the age of three. Children will often break their habit on their own, when they begin preschool.
Children often suck their thumbs for comfort. Parents can try to comfort the child so that he or she does not feel the need to suck his/her thumb. When children are old enough, they may be able to understand the possible consequences of the sucking habit, if properly explained.
Parents and the dentist must work together to encourage the child to stop the habit. If the thumbsucking persists, your dentist may prescribe a mouth appliance or medication, and can recommend other ways to manage the habit.
Tips to Help Your Child
Ask your child if he or she is aware of the habit you would like to break. You could ask, for example “Do you know that your finger is in your mouth right now?” If the answer is no, make them realize it and try to turn their attention towards something else, such as a favorite toy.
Another approach is to create a thumb chart. Each day, dip your child’s thumb/finger in food dye, and place a stamp by every day they don't suck their thumb/finger. Use small rewards to help keep the experience positive, as opposed to scolding the child.
Do not criticize or shame your child about their habit, especially in public. Be patient and remember that most children will drop their habit on their own.