Thumbsucking - Should I Worry?
A baby's natural reflex is to suck. Sucking a thumb or finger can help young children learn about their surroundings, feel secure, relax and fall asleep.
Parents sometimes start to worry if the practice continues, though, especially once permanent teeth appear. Thumbsucking or pacifier sucking, if particularly vigorous, can affect the proper growth and alignment of teeth and cause other unwelcome changes.
Most children stop the practice between ages two to four. Simple first measures to discourage the continued practice include putting a sock over the hand at night, getting a bitter medication from either your dentist or pediatrician, or gently encouraging your child by using praise when the behavior is not occurring. But if your child's baby teeth appear to be affected by thumbsucking, consult your dentist.
Because the practice can be linked to feelings of insecurity, try to identify and eliminate stressful elements in your child's life and increase the sense of comfort. Changes can be as simple as using a quieter tone of voice, spending more one-on-one time together, getting more physical exercise.
With the older child whose permanent front teeth have begun to appear, it is often effective to discuss together how the sucking might be stopped and why it is important. A system of rewards, praise, and celebration for not sucking can often set the child on a rapid path to abandoning the habit. You can also ask your dentist to explain the consequences in terms your child can understand.
Prolonged thumbsucking in the older child can lead to a variety of orthodontic and speech problems and may be an indication of other treatment needs. If you have continued concerns about your child, consult your dentist or pediatrician.