More than three-quarters of infants suck their thumbs or fingers through the first year of life. A child usually turns to his thumb when he is tired, upset or bored and simultaneously engage in other self-comforting behaviors like pulling at a strand of hair, touching an ear, or holding onto a blanket or stuffed toy.
A child younger than age five years shouldn’t be pressured to stop thumb sucking. The majority of children give up such habits on their own before they enter school , about fifteen percent of children will continue thumb sucking past their fifth birthday. This is an age when teasing often starts, causing social difficulties for children once they reach school age.
Thumb sucking can also lead to dental problems. A child who is still sucking his thumb by age five, when permanent teeth start coming in, may develop an abnormal bite. In addition, prolonged thumb sucking can cause minor physical problems, such as chapped lips or cracked skin, calluses, or fingernail infections. Excessive thumb sucking may lead to
Buck teeth – for example, the front teeth may be pushed out of alignment. This can alter the shape of the face and lead to an open bite.
A lisp – pre-school children who suck their fingers and thumbs can push their teeth out of their normal position. This interferes with the correct formation of certain speech sounds
The effects of thumb sucking are usually reversible up until the age of seven, because children still have their deciduous (baby) teeth. If thumb sucking continues beyond the age, when the second teeth are erupting, permanent dental problems can occur.
There are various things you can do to help your child stop thumb sucking.
1. Reward your child and offer encouragement – for example, with a hug or praise, to reinforce their decision to stop the habit.
2. Limit nagging – if children feel they are being nagged they will become defensive.
3. Mark their progress on a calendar – for example, place a star or a tick for each period (such as a day or week) that the child does not suck their thumb or finger. Provide a special outing or a toy if the child gets through the period successfully.
4. Encourage bonding – for example, with a special toy.
5. Reminders – give the child a mitten to wear as a reminder not to suck, or place unpleasant tasting nail paint (available from chemists) on the fingers or thumb. Placing a band aid over the thumb at bedtime is another reminder.
6. Offer distractions – while a child is watching TV, have toys available for children to play with. Sit with the child during this time and give a cuddle to help them not to suck. In the car, have toys available to keep children occupied.
7. Talk to your pediatrician and your child’s dentist, who may recommend appropriate treatment ,that prevents thumb sucking.
– Dr Meenakshi Vaishnavi
Consultant Dental Surgeon, Mobile: 9810856391