One of the most frequent concerns parents express to us is their child’s thumb or finger sucking habit. The good news, though, is that thumb sucking is a completely normal activity for babies and young children, and if they stop by age 4 it should have no adverse effects on their future bite.
In fact, there are positive aspects to thumb sucking: it provides babies with a sense of security, as well as a way to learn about the world. As a child grows and becomes more confident with their surroundings, the thumb sucking habit will fade and eventually stop: for most children this occurs between the ages of two and four.
If, however, the habit continues later in childhood, there is a chance the upper front teeth may be influenced to tip toward the lip during eruption and come into an improper position that could also adversely affect jaw development. The same concern exists for pacifier use — we recommend weaning a child off a pacifier by the time they’re eighteen months of age.
If your child still has a thumb or finger sucking habit as they prepare to enter school, it’s quite appropriate to work on getting them to stop. Punishment, shaming or similar negative approaches, however, aren’t the best ways to accomplish this: it’s much more effective to try to modify their behavior through reward, praise or some creative activity.
Another factor that may help is to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Regular checkups give us a chance to monitor the development of their bite, especially if thumb sucking continues longer than normal. We can also assist you with strategies to encourage them to stop thumb sucking or pacifier use.
Thumb sucking that continues later than normal isn’t a cause for panic, but it does require attention and action. Helping your child “grow” past this stage in their life will improve their chances of developing a normal and healthy bite.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.”