Thumbsucking is a way that many infants soothe themselves and they will typically stop the habit on their own without any intervention from a dental professional. However, if your child is still thumbsucking or using a pacifier past the age of three, you may need a habit device or other tips from Dr. Cat.
The reason for not letting the thumbsucking continue is because it can cause the teeth to shift or lead to speech impediments and orthodontic issues.
The Effect of Thumbsucking on Baby Teeth
Baby teeth typically erupt in the mouth between three and 18 months of age. During this time, the teeth can start to shift position due to thumbsucking. The force exerted with a sucking motion can eventually cause the front teeth to start shifting outward. That shifting can alter the natural placement of the teeth and make them point outwards instead of naturally being up and down.
Age four is the time set by the American Dental Association when a child should definitely stop sucking his thumb if he hasn’t already.
Most Children Will Naturally Stop Thumbsucking On Their Own
If your child passively sucks their thumb, vs vigorous thumbsucking, then you don’t need to really worry. This is especially true if the habit starts to occur less and less as they age.
Many children will naturally stop thumbsucking on their own by age four, especially when taught consistently not to do it.
Tips for Stopping the Thumbsucking Habit
The goal is to stop the habit before changes to the teeth and jaws happen. At a young age, start encouraging your child to stop sucking their thumb. Instead of disciplining them for the habit, praise a toddler when they stop sucking the thumb or attempt to stop. Over time, that praise may be enough to stop the habit altogether.
Studies have concluded that forceful correction can have the opposite effect on a toddler trying to quit thumbsucking. Because this habit is one that children do to soothe themselves, you want to employ methods in quitting the habit that won’t induce more anxiety or discomfort. This is why reward systems and praise work so well.
What About Pacifiers?
The ADA reports that pacifiers can have the same effects on the baby teeth as thumbsucking does. However, if you have to choose between one or the other, try quitting the thumbsucking by offering your child a pacifier instead. Then, take measures to start weaning off the pacifier. It’s generally easier to wean a child from a pacifier than it is a thumb. The experts say a pacifier is completely normal for infants. However, you want to start breaking the habit around age two. Habits are harder to break as an infant ages.
Our Li’l Sunshine Smiles office staff is here to help answer your questions about thumbsucking and pacifiers and to lend you advice when you need it.