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Thumb Sucking 101 – a Guide for Long Island Parents

added on: March 11, 2014
Pacifiers and thumb sucking - young toddler boy with pacifier in mouth

Sucking is one of your baby’s most natural reflexes. Not only is it there to help her survive, it helps sooth and calm your baby and help her learn about the world too. It is healthy and natural. Once a baby has found the thumb or other fingers, she will often use it as a way to soothe herself when she is tired or in unfamiliar surroundings. In fact, sucking is so comforting that humans suck their fingers and toes in the womb!

Children usually stop sucking their thumbs or pacifiers on their own between the ages of two and four years of age. Only when thumb sucking, or pacifier dependence, becomes prolonged or aggressive, or if changes begin to occur in the teeth, should it become a cause for worry. The trick is to help your child lessen her dependency on thumb sucking before it becomes a hard-to-break habit.

When to Be Concerned

Because prolonged thumb sucking can cause changes in the roof of the mouth as well as problems with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of teeth, keep your eye on your child’s thumb or pacifier sucking habits. If your child is a really vigorous thumb sucker, he or she is more likely to have problems than a passive thumb sucker. If you hear a popping sound when your child removes her thumb, she is probably an aggressive thumb sucker! We suggest that you bring your child to our Long Island Pediatric Dental Office for regular checkups so we can help you keep an eye on how those little teeth and jaws are developing. Stopping the habit at the right time, can help keep your child out of braces in the future.

How to Break the Habit

If your child doesn’t give up the thumb on her own, or if we see signs of a developing problem, it is probably time to help ease your little one in to other forms of self-soothing. Here are a few tips:

  • Start by limiting the time for thumb or pacifier sucking. You can even teach your child that it is an at-home activity, not one to be practiced in public.
  • Never scold or punish your child for thumbsucking.
  • Offer positive reinforcement for NOT sucking with encouraging words and praise.
  • Tak to your child about why it is important to stop. Empower them with reasons instead of creating fear or worry.
  • Ask Long Island Pediatric dentist to explain why stopping thumb or pacifier sucking is so important and what it could do to your child’s teeth.
  • For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
  • Create a reward system such as a chart with stickers to chart progress and show your child how well she is doing.
  • Try putting a bandaid over the thumb to change the taste and texture.
  • Put liquid vanilla on the thumb. It may smell great but it has a bitter taste that oftne discourages sucking.
  • Invest in a guard – a retainer or mouth guard makes sucking difficult and less soothing.

If you are having trouble helping your child break the habit, or if you have questions about thumb or pacifier sucking, please call our Long Island Pediatric Dental Office today.