Health Tips

Saying Goodbye to Thumb Sucking

boy holding chinMany parents have a love/hate relationship with thumb sucking. It’s helpful because your baby knows how to soothe himself, but how long will it go on — and how can you help him stop?

Thumb sucking or finger sucking is very common behavior for many children — behavior that often starts in the womb. The habit can help babies relieve anxiety, fall asleep and manage stress. But at some point, the action of sucking thumbs and fingers can cause permanent damage to your child’s mouth — and invite insults from schoolmates.

How long is too long?

When does the thumb become unhealthy? The American Dental Association says kids can probably suck their thumbs until they’re 4 or 5 years old without damaging the teeth or jawline. If thumb sucking doesn't stop around the time the permanent teeth come in, however, the teeth may eventually become crooked. Less often, the roof of the mouth may become deformed.

Most children will stop their thumb-sucking habits on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. However, some children hold on to the habit for much longer. Unlike a pacifier, which parents can take away, those thumbs aren’t going anywhere and they are very tempting. The best thing you can do is to be supportive. Your child probably wants to give up the habit, especially if being teased about it at school or when playing with friends.

Ditching the habit

Here are some time-tested ways to help your child stop the thumb-sucking habit.

Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: April 2013
 

 

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