Thumb or finger sucking is a baby or child’s way of self-soothing. It is a very common habit for babies and toddler, but if this habit continues on for too long, it may begin to cause problems for his or her oral health.
Dental Problems Caused by Thumb or Finger Sucking
The habit of sucking a thumb or fingers is one that can cause both aesthetic and functional dental issues for your child. These problems can include the following:
Open Bite – An open bite is what occurs when your child’s front teeth don’t meet when their mouth closes. This will affect the way your child’s smile looks, but it can also make it more difficult for your child to bite, chew, or speak properly. Orthodontic treatment will be necessary to fix an open bite.
Narrow Palate – The palate, also known as the roof of the mouth, is very pliable in childhood. After too long, your child’s palate may begin to conform to the shape of his or her thumb, causing the arch of the palate to become too high or narrow. This can cause potential aesthetic or orthodontic issues.
Jaw Misalignment – If fingers or a thumb are sucked with enough force, it can actually cause the jaws to shift out of alignment. If this happens, it may become necessary for your child to undergo jaw surgery to correct the issue.
Luckily there are a few practical ways for you to help your child stop this potentially harmful habit. These can include:
Positive reinforcement, which is praise when your child is not sucking his or her thumb. It’s been shown that positive reinforcement while ignoring the bad habit is much more successful than punishment for the habit.
Have a reward system in place. For example, if your child can go a whole day (or even just a whole hour) without sucking his or her thumb, make sure a reward can be earned. These rewards can simply be stickers on a chart. Help your child get excited about this new system.
Even if your child has stopped sucking his or her thumb during the day, the habit may still be continuing subconsciously during sleep. It’s a good idea to place bandages or mittens over your child’s thumbs before bed to discourage nighttime sucking.
Most kids will stop this habit on their own before intervention is necessary. However, if you are having a difficult time helping your child break this habit, or if you are concerned about the length of time your child has been sucking his or her thumb, please don’t hesitate to contact Little Smiles of Delaware located here in Delaware, Ohio.