Thumb Sucking and Its Psychological and Dental Effects

Thumb Sucking

Thumb Sucking in UtahThumb sucking is normal in babies and toddlers. Babies have a natural urge to suck, but most stop by the age of 3 or, at most, 6. Psychology explains thumb sucking as an instinctive act by infants and toddlers to soothe themselves when they feel hungry, afraid, restless or sleepy. In rare cases, thumb sucking can also be a response to an emotional problem or anxiety.

Thumb Sucking to Cope with Stress

The thumb-sucking habit starts as soon as the baby is born. It’s a reflex babies acquire from breastfeeding. Thumb sucking among children below 4 years old is not considered a problem, but as the child grows older, the action manifests itself to provide comfort in stressful situations.

Because children don’t have the alternative coping mechanisms that adults have, such as cigarettes or alcohol, thumb sucking becomes their go-to option to relieve stress and soothe themselves – even if it’s not a conscious effort.

Adverse Effects on Dental Health

While thumb sucking is positive for children psychologically, prolonged thumb sucking may cause teeth to settle in improperly. According to Walker Pediatric Dentistry, thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of permanent teeth will cause problems in proper tooth growth and alignment.

Children who continue to suck their thumb at the age of 6 or older are at risk of dental and speech problems. The longer they do it, the more likely they would need orthodontic treatments in the future.

Speech problems that may arise from thumb sucking include lisping and thrusting of the tongue while talking.

Stopping the Habit

Parents are in the best position to encourage their child to stop his thumb-sucking habit. They can be more successful if the child is willing to do so and helps to decide how. One way is to give positive reinforcement. It can be in the form of small rewards or by praising them.

Identifying the trigger will also help to stop the habit. If it appears to be a response to stress, parents should find ways to provide comfort through other means. A pillow or a stuffed animal that the child can squeeze will be a good alternative.

In some cases, paying no attention to it is enough to stop the behavior. Talking to the child and collaborating with dentists may also resolve the issue.

Thumb sucking accomplishes its purpose of relaxing babies and toddlers, but prolonging the habit will have negative effects on the child’s teeth and overall development. Parents should help their children withdraw from the habit and make sure the child gets proper dental consultation.