Often during the course of a visit with a mom or dad we are asked questions about their little one’s oral hygiene or other oral issues. One of the most asked questions we get for pediatrics is in regards to thumbsucking. Parents are often concerned if this is something that will create dental problems for their child and at what age they should stop.
First and foremost it is important to note that thumb sucking is very normal in younger children. Sucking is a natural reflex and children may do it for many reasons. One very common reason for children to suck on fingers or pacifiers is the need to soothe.
The issue with thumbsucking is the intensity at which your child sucks his or her thumb. Children who simply rest their thumbs in their mouths are going to have less trouble than those who vigorously suck their thumb. Many believe that thumbsucking cannot affect the baby’s (primary) teeth but this is untrue. For aggressive thumbsuckers they can damage these baby teeth.
For most children thumbsucking is not an issue if it is stopped before the permanent teeth erupts. This said we recommend that children stop thumbsucking by age 4.  If thumbsucking continues when the child has their permanent teeth they risk causing problems with the alignment of teeth and proper growth of mouth.
It is important to note that pacifiers often times have the same effect as thumbsucking!
Tips to stop thumbsucking:

  • Let your child be involved in choosing how to stop thumbsucking. Let them be creative and create incentives for them.
  • Many times children suck because they feel insecure or anxious. Help them work through these situations by teaching them to cope in other ways.
  • Have your dentist talk to your child about the effects their behavior could have on their teeth and to offer encouragement. Many times someone besides mom or dad can be just the boost your child needs.

Remember you are not alone! Your dentist is here is to help you through situations such as these.