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Posts for tag: Pacifier

Tips and Ideas to Stop Thumb Sucking

 

Thumb sucking develops in young children as a coping mechanism. Like a pacifier, children often suck on their thumbs as a way to self-soothe. While this natural habit can be useful during infancy and in the early toddler years, if it goes on too long, it can cause serious problems in your child’s dental development.

 

If thumb sucking continues long enough, it can even cause social problems if other kids begin to make fun of the child, anxiety if the child hasn’t developed other ways to self-soothe, and even sickness - just imagine all the germs on your child’s hand being placed directly in their mouth! Yuck.

 

Anderson Pediatric Dentistry wants to help you and your child break the habit of thumb sucking. We hope the information and tips below are useful for you and your family.

 

Why did my child start sucking his/her thumb?

 

Children find their thumb in the early months of infancy as they explore their body and surroundings. Many babies will experiment with sucking on their fingers and thumbs. Some even prefer their thumb over a pacifier. Like a pacifier, the thumb provides something to suck on, which is how babies naturally self-soothe. Often this soothing habit is used during stressful times, when tired, or during periods of separation from parents or caregivers.

 

Should I give my baby a pacifier to prevent thumb sucking?

 

While we know that people have strong feelings about pacifiers and many breast-feeding mothers will need to wait to introduce the pacifier until their nursing routine and milk supply is secure, we do advocate a pacifier over a thumb. Pacifiers do not put as much pressure on the roof the other child’s mouth and will not push the teeth out as easily. But the main reason for choosing pacifier over thumb is that it tends to be an easier habit to break. A pacifier can be “lost” or removed from the child’s daily environment. A thumb will always be available and there to tempt the child.

 

What age does my child need to stop thumb sucking?

 

While earlier is better, we recommend all children stop sucking their thumbs by the age of three, as this is when their teeth are in and the damage to their growth can really start to occur. Some children are very aggressive suckers, bruising the roof of their mouth or blistering their thumbs. For these children, a plan to eliminate the habit needs to be put in place much earlier.

 

How can I prevent my child from starting to thumb suck?

 

While exploring their hands, fingers and thumbs will be a natural part of infant growth and development; there are ways to prevent them from ever becoming full-blown thumb suckers.

 

1) Provide the baby with lots of opportunities to suck:
 

Babies use sucking as a means of attachment and a way to self-soothe. If an alternative means is not provided, they will find something to suck on - like their own thumb. If nursing, you can allow for non-nutritive nursing when baby needs to be comforted, or provide alternative ways for the baby to suck, such as your (clean) finger, a pacifier or collapsed bottle nipple.

 

2) Distraction

 

Keep your child’s thumbs busy or occupied. If you see your child’s hand heading towards his or her mouth, distract them with something that keeps their hands busy.

 

3) Talk to Your Child

 

If your child has reached the age where thumb sucking can harm their teeth (three years), than he/she is old enough to understand. Put your child in front of a mirror and explain how sucking on their thumb can harm their teeth, show pictures of the damage that thumb sucking can cause, and have your pediatric dentist also discuss the possible problems with your child. Sometimes hearing it from someone else will be more effective.

 

4) Always Be Positive

 

Do not berate your child for sucking his or her thumb, or resort to calling them a baby or other demeaning terms. Encourage your child and use positive reinforcement. Be sure to find opportunities to praise your child, such as when they handle a new or stressful situation without sucking their thumb.

 

5) Time Your Discussions and Offer Reminders

 

Do not allow thumb sucking to become a power struggle. You don’t want to create more stress for the child, which will make him/her want to soothe by thumb sucking even more. You also do not want it to hurt their self-esteem, cause shame or become a habit they try to do in secrecy. Speak to your child about it when he or she is calm and receptive to hearing what you have to say, not after an upsetting event.

 

6) Offer Physical Reminders

 

A tongue depressor taped over the thumb to act as a splint, a sock worn over the hand at night or even the bitter tasting liquid that can be painted on the thumb (popular brand name is Mavala), can all serve as physical reminders when the child tries to place thumb in his or her mouth.  A thumb guard (T-guard is a popular brand) is also available online and is very effective if used appropriately.  We recommend purchasing the thumb guard with the locking straps so the child cannot take the device off on their own.

 

7) Suggest a Competing Habit

 

For older children, encourage another activity that keeps their hand busy, such as fidget spinner or cube. If you have a nighttime thumb sucker, suggest the child sleep with his/her hand under the blanket or pillow. For younger children, offer a soothing blanket or animal for the child to pet or stroke to help soothe.

 

8) Provide a Prize

 

Whether you call it a bribe or a prize, they work. Offer your child some sort of prize to give him or her incentive to stop thumb sucking. Make it something to get excited about and remind them along the way.

 

9) Talk to Your Pediatric Dentist

 

If breaking the habit of thumb sucking seems impossible, we are always here to help. We can speak to your child and show them pictures and visuals. Sometimes, hearing it from their dentist seems a bit more serious to them. We can also discuss the option of using a thumb guard device if your child is having a hard time giving it up.

 

 

As always, Anderson pediatric Dentistry is always available to answer your questions and help your child achieve his/her best smile.