Sucking is a natural reflex and thumb-sucking habits are common for young children. It may make them feel safe and happy, or provide a sense of security during periods of stress. Due to factors like frequency, duration, intensity and position, such a habit can adversely affect the position of the jaws and cause a malformed palate. As the child ages, the jaw bones continue to grow and change. If the child continues the habit as he or she approaches age 4, such undesirable changes become permanent. Therefore, it is important to break the habit by this age.
Most children will stop sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. Peer pressure may also cause many school-aged children to quit sucking. In other instances, a reminder appliance may be needed to assist the child in quitting. If your child has not ceased a thumb- or finger-sucking habit by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt, some appliance intervention may be recommended.
The dentists at Dentistry for Kids are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding thumb-sucking or pacifier use.
Tips on breaking thumb or finger habits:
- Choose the right time (low stress for the child)
- Motivate your child (use examples of older siblings, etc.)
- Positive reinforcement
- Do not acknowledge the habit, praise them when not sucking
- Use a reward system (ex:: calendar with stars followed by reward at the end of the week/month)
If you use a pacifier, use a clean one. Never dip a pacifier in sugar, honey, or juice before giving it to your baby. Prolonged use of pacifiers can harm the teeth just like prolonged thumb-sucking, but it often is easier to wean a child from a pacifier than a thumb habit.
Aim to have your child drink from a cup by their first birthday, and discourage frequent use of a training or sippy cup. Never allow a baby to take a bottle to bed at night or naptime. Bottles or cups used between meals should contain water and not juice, soda or milk.