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Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit? | Overland Park Family Dentist

Becoming a parent comes with a whole lot of questions, and often the answers are only found through experience. One of the questions that many parents ask their Overland Park dentist is about their child’s habit of sucking his or her thumb, especially when it seems to go on a bit later in their child’s development than they might like.

The good news is that thumb sucking—or sucking on other fingers, pacifiers, etc.—is a common and natural reflex that gets its start before your child is even born. According to the American Dental Association, there’s no harm in thumb sucking, at least where babies are concerned. Most children outgrow thumb sucking on their own by the time they’re two or three years old, though some may revert back to it when they are particularly anxious or stressed, such as during times when they are away from their parents. However, it is rarely a serious issue unless it continues long past the stage when most children have abandoned the habit.

How long is thumb sucking acceptable? Many infants suck their thumbs as a form of self-soothing, especially just before they fall asleep. But how much is too much? Most children stop on their own by the time they’re two to three years of age, and the ADA recommends that parents begin (gently) discouraging their child’s thumb sucking habit if he or she hasn’t stopped—or mostly stopped—by four years old.

What are the effects of prolonged thumb sucking? If thumb sucking makes your child happy, why should you ever discourage it? The answer is that, by the age of five or six, prolonged thumb sucking can affect the development of your child’s teeth and jaw. Thumb sucking can even affect the alignment of your child’s permanent teeth. This can lead to everything from overbite or other bite issues to changes in speech patterns or increased sensitivity in the roof of the mouth.

How can I help my child stop? Now that you know when to start discouraging thumb sucking, the next question becomes how. The key to discouraging a child’s behavior is to do so in a gentle and nurturing manner. Don’t shame your child into discontinuing a natural and soothing behavior. Instead, find ways to encourage them to want to stop. Your Overland Park dentist may be able to help by explaining the type of damage that prolonged thumb sucking can do in terms that your child can understand.

If you have questions or concerns about thumb sucking or about your child’s dental development and oral health in general, you can always call Watts Family Dental at (913) 338-3384 to schedule an appointment with your Overland Park dentist or ask a member of our friendly staff any questions you may have. And, of course, once children are old enough, it’s time to begin teaching them how to brush and floss and bring them to see their Overland Park dentist, too.

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