Thumb Sucking: The Good and the Bad for Your Child

Thumb sucking is one of those things kids do that causes disagreement among parents. Some think it’s good, while others say it’s bad. Some don’t care, while others shame moms who let kids do it (at least subtly). Still, there are those who say it’s just like picking nursery room colors — to each their own.

What’s the real deal about thumb sucking? Here’s the short answer: it’s normal.

Why Kids Suck Their Thumbs

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex of babies. In fact, even before they were born, they’re already doing this habit in the womb, as it gives them a sense of comfort and security. They carry this through childhood, and as you’ve probably noticed, your toddler resorts to it when they’re feeling anxious. It’s a coping mechanism for stress and a sign that your child is able to self-regulate emotions. As they grow more, they learn other techniques on how to soothe themselves, like avoiding upsetting situations or distracting themselves through play.

Between ages two and four, children stop thumb sucking on their own. When they don’t, that’s when problems happen, particularly on their teeth and self-image.

When Problems Happen

Child at the dentist

As kids’ dentist and Herriman-based dental experts said, once permanent teeth grow, thumb sucking messes up the alignment of teeth. For instance, your child’s upper front teeth may become pushed forward due to the force applied when sucking. Sometimes, this problem comes with the upper jaw protruding as well, causing malformation in the area.

In other instances, the habit forces the lower front teeth to incline towards the tongue, which again causes misalignment. There’s also the risk of suffering from an open bite, a problem in which the upper and lower teeth don’t touch when the back teeth bite together. You would notice that the shape of the opening between the upper and lower teeth fit your child’s thumb exactly. If it’s not open bite, a crossbite may occur.

These dental problems make it harder for your child to protect their oral health better. As you know, crooked teeth create tiny crevices in the mouth where food debris can get stuck. These are often hard-to-reach areas when brushing teeth, so your child may develop other dental problems like cavities in the long run.

Aside from the health risks, do note that there are attached socio-emotional issues as well. Your child may suffer from teasing from peers about their habit. Their pre-school classmates may exclude them from play, or even go as far as bullying them and calling them names. This can affect your child’s perception of themselves early on in life, which may cause psychological problems later.

If you see that they’re not weaning off the thumb by the time they hit four or five, intervene to stop the habit. Sit down and talk to them. Give them comfort objects when stressed and let them have a chat with the dentist.

When it comes to thumb sucking, there’s the good and the bad. It’s good in the sense that it signals your child’s emotional self-regulation skills. It’s bad because it comes with the risk of physical and social problems. The bottom line is to be on guard for your child’s habits and know when to intervene.

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