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Thumb Sucking and your Tot

July 15, 2016


Written by: Dr. Jennifer H. Hill, DDS, MS

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All toddlers suck their thumbs, right?

The truth is, thumb sucking is a natural habit for young toddlers. In fact, approximately 90% of children between the ages of 2 and 4 suck their thumbs. However, if the habit lasts too long, it can lead to dental or speech problems. Read on to learn more questions about thumb sucking that we frequently hear from parents!

Why do toddlers suck their thumbs?

Toddlers have the natural tendency to suck. Thumb sucking is a toddler’s way to self-soothe when they feel hungry, bored, or restless. This is completely healthy and natural, and is no reason to panic! However, if your child sucks his or her thumb past the age of 5, it could be a result of an emotional problem, like anxiety.

When should my child stop sucking his or her thumb?

Most toddlers naturally stop sucking their thumbs around age 4. If your child continues sucking his or her thumb past this age, that’s when the risk of dental or speech problems can occur.

What exactly are the effects of thumb sucking past age 4?

  • Teeth being pushed around, which might cause the formation of an overbite or an underbite
  • A lisp being formed because constant thumb sucking can affect the jaw bone positioning
  • Germs from your child’s thumb and surrounding areas affecting his or her body
  • The roof of the mouth becoming altered or more sensitive

How do I help my child break the habit?

There are several ways to go about encouraging your child to break his or her thumb sucking habit. Don’t forget, your child feels soothed when he or she sucks his or her thumb. Using positive reinforcement like saying “What a big boy!” will help comfort your child. Scolding your child will only make him feel the need to self-soothe even more. So keep it positive and your child will feel the most comfortable!

I think my child might need some extra care. What can I do?

There are a few other options. You can remind your child by putting a bandage around the thumb to keep them from sucking. If your child sleeps with the thumb in the mouth, you can remove it after they fall asleep each night. If the habit persists, we recommend that you call your dentist at Leap Kids or make an appointment. We can take a look at your child’s development and consider appliances that will help your child break the habit for good. We want the best for your child, and will take great care of him or her so your child can enjoy a lifetime of good oral health!

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