Thumb Sucking


Thumb sucking is a very normal natural action that is, for the most part, harmless to young children. Sucking is the first coordinated muscular action that babies learn-many babies even begin sucking their thumbs in the womb. Sucking helps to strengthen the muscles that allow a baby to eat.

More than 80 percent of babies and infants suck their thumbs, and this is perfectly healthy, even when baby teeth start to emerge. The damage is done when the child is over the age of four. When an older toddler or young child sucks his or her thumb, it can actually alter the shape of his or her jawbone or the roof of his mouth. This can lead to upper front teeth that protrude, lower teeth that tilt inward, or a cross bite. These problems do not occur with baby teeth, but only when the child's permanent teeth start to develop.

Your child sucks his thumb as a way to comfort, relax, or entertain himself. How do you get him to stop? The best way to get a little one to stop sucking his thumb is to offer a reward system for positive behavior. Figure out why he sucks, then provide a new item to replace the habit. For example, if your child sucks his thumb to comfort himself, see whether a stuffed animal or special blanket will present a suitable replacement. Some parents need to take more extreme steps, and put their children in mittens to prevent unconscious nighttime thumb sucking.

Only you know your child and what will work with him. The key to stopping the sucking is positive reinforcement, not scolding, shame, or stress. This is a difficult habit for kids and parents to break, but the benefit of a beautiful, healthy smile is well worth the work.

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