Ask Your Dulles Pediatric Dentist: How do I stop my child’s thumb sucking?

end thumb sucking | loudoun county pediatric dentist“All I want for Christmas is my baby to stop sucking her thumb. It’s such a terrible habit. Help me, Smilez Pediatric Dental Group Loudoun. How can I stop the thumb-sucking? —Concerned for my baby’s teeth”

Dear Concerned,

Thumb-sucking is a totally natural and normal behavior in young children. Babies are born with the natural urge to suck — at the breast, on pacifiers, their fingers, thumb, and anything else they can shove in their little mouths. This action is calming and comforting, and one that likely began before she was even born. To your baby, her thumb is a cure-all: sleepy, scared, bored, or sick. Her thumb helps him learn and understand that he is okay, that he can be calm, that he is secure.

During infancy and early toddlerhood, thumb-sucking is nothing to worry about. The American Dental Association (ADA) has proven the practice mostly harmless; most children who suck their thumb will do so without ever damaging the alignment of teeth or gums. Because most children will drop the habit on their own between the ages of two and four. So, if your baby is six months, eight months, fourteen months — please don’t worry about it.

However, if your sucker is nearing the age of four, there are a few things you can do help wean her from the thumb. Prolonged thumb-sucking can lead speech delays, lisp, and malocclusion (or a pushing outward) of the front teeth, which may require orthodontic treatment to correct. It seems here is where your fears lie, and you should know we understand. There are a few simple, easy steps you can take to end your child’s thumb sucking for good.

  • Distract her. It’s become a habit. Watching TV, hanging out on the couch with mom on Saturday morning: The thumb goes in the mouth. Instead, offer a ball to bounce or a stuffed animal to snuggle, anything that might distract her from his urge to suck.
  • Put gloves on her hands. It’s an oral fixation, something she does without even thinking. Gloves on her hands or a bandage taped around her thumb will serve as a consistent reminder, because fabric and adhesive just don’t taste very good.
  • Offer praise. All children want is your approval. Encourage your big girl when she goes a whole day without sucking her thumb. Mark every consecutive day on the calendar, and consider offering a reward when she’s done so well.
  • Observe. Watch her. Try to understand why she is still sucking her thumb, and respond accordingly. She sucks because she’s tired? Move her bedtime up a little, or let her nap a little longer. She sucks because he’s feeling anxious or frustrated? Help her use his words.

She’s a whole little person with his own needs and desires, and maybe right now thumb-sucking is among them; it won’t last forever. Work with her to break the habit when it’s time, if it’s necessary, but don’t ever shame or punish her for that which comes so natural.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me and the Smilez Pediatric Dental Group team in Loudoun County at (703) 947-0951. Good luck.

-Dr. Bhatti