Thumb Sucking – A Dental Perspective

Synergy Clinic Addlestone offers parents some advice surrounding this common childhood habit

Young family with childrenNearly all children will suck their thumbs for a while and this happens most often during the transition from breast or bottle feeding to eating solid foods. Stress and anxiety can also cause children to suck their thumbs to help them stay calm. Although relatively unusual, this can even continue into adulthood.

Although any long term thumb sucking is potentially harmful for a child’s teeth, it can be divided into thumb sucking that is done gently, such as when they are going to sleep, and that which is done more aggressively, usually in the case of anxiety. We hope that this blog will help our Addlestone patients who are parents understand the problems that this can cause and help them to wean their children from this habit effectively.

What’s so bad about thumb sucking?

Aside from the occasional sore thumb caused by sucking it too much, there are longer term implications for the teeth of a young child. With most children sucking their thumb so that it is positioned behind the rear of the top teeth, this creates pressure which will tend to push them outwards, making them more pronounced. This movement can also cause other teeth to move into any spaces created and multiple crooked teeth are a possibility as they develop.

When to stop sucking

According to the British Orthodontic Society, providing that a child manages to stop sucking their thumb by the age of 7, there is every chance that the teeth will correct themselves providing that good oral health and normal child development is present. After this age, there is a likelihood that this will not happen and the child may need to have orthodontic treatment in order to correct their bite and reposition any crooked teeth.

Encouraging children to stop

Unlike if we wanted our child to stop playing with an annoying toy, such as a drum, we can’t take away our children’s thumbs! It can be difficult for them to break this habit which has enabled them to cope with some of the stresses and strains of being a small child. Because it helps to comfort them, we should be careful to gradually coax them away from this habit rather than being too strict about it. Taking more drastic actions such as shouting at them is only likely to make them want to suck their thumbs even more.

What you can do to help them

One of the most common and obvious ways to stop them sucking their thumb is to provide them with an alternative in the form of a dummy or pacifier. Some children may also start to suck the ear of a favourite teddy bear instead for example. All of these are an improvement as the material is much softer and puts less pressure on their young teeth. It should be seen as a transitory stage though, rather than a long term solution.

If you do use this method, please don’t dip the dummy in sugary liquids for encouragement. This will greatly heighten the risk of tooth decay.

Note what causes thumb sucking

Some thumb sucking is natural and children often suck their thumbs when they are tired. Parents should monitor situations that tend to cause ‘stress sucking’ though. This may be an incident which is very insignificant to us, as adults,  but may be very stressful for a very young child. If you can identify these ‘trigger points’, you may be able to offer comfort and help them cope with situations like this without resorting to their thumbs.

Encouragement

As we mentioned earlier, there is little point in shouting at children to tell them to stop sucking their thumbs. Gradual encouragement is a better approach and may be supplemented with treats or rewards. Ideally, these should not be in the form of sweets, for obvious reasons, but could be simple things like a trip to the park to feed the ducks, or even taking them to see a film at the cinema. It won’t happen overnight, but with gradual encouragement and treats, most children will gradually stop this potentially tooth damaging habit.

We can help!

At the Synergy Clinic, we believe that educating children from a young age about the importance of looking after their teeth, will pay dividends over a longer period of time. You should make sure to bring them to see one of our child friendly dentists from around the time of their first birthday. Regular six monthly check ups from this point will help to familiarise them with the surroundings of a dental practice, and we can offer them advice to help them keep their teeth strong and healthy.

If you are a parent of a young child in the Addlestone area and have not yet got them registered at a dental practice in the area, why not give us a call today on 01932 856541.