Some babies start thumb sucking while in the womb. Others don’t ever start. It has been said that if your child doesn’t suck their thumb within the first three months of life, it probably won’t ever start.
We do know that infants have a strong urge to suck and that babies suck their thumbs to calm themselves. When a child’s permanent teeth start to come in, that sucking (thumb or pacifier) can cause issues for the alignment of teeth.
Long-term negative effects of thumb sucking (other than a fear of teeth alignment issues) may include:
- Hindered speech
- Altered breathing patterns
- Abnormal tongue resting position
- Narrowing of the jar or palate
Some childcare experts say to ignore thumb sucking if it’s before age 4. Others say that you should break the habit before your child reaches 6 months of age. Between the ages of two and four, the need for sucking should stop. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it might be to break the habit should a child not simply “grow out of it”. By age five, and when adult teeth start to appear, if your child is still sucking their thumb, talk to your dentist or pediatrician for advise. Here are a few tips that might help:
- praise your child when you notice they aren’t sucking their thumbs/fingers
- let an older child set goals and get rewards for not sucking
- focus on WHY they are sucking since this action generally occurs when a child is needing comfort
- put a bandage or string on the thumb as a reminder to not suck
- at night, place a sock over the hand
- talk to your doctor or dentist about bitter tasting coatings that are applied to the thumb/fingers
- in severe cases, a mouth appliance might be suggested