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Thumb Sucking, Should I be Concerned?

Thumb sucking.

Sucking on one’s thumb, or digit sucking is a common behavior among infants and young children. It is a normal and harmless way for them to comfort themselves and feel secure. Some children may continue to suck their thumb beyond the age of five or six years, however, and this behavior can interfere with normal dental development (more on this below). It is important for parents to be aware of the potential risks of prolonged thumb sucking and to take steps to encourage their child to stop if necessary.

There are several reasons why children may suck their thumbs. In infants, it is often a way to self-soothe and fall asleep. It may also be a way for children to cope with stress or anxiety. It is not uncommon to see 4d baby scans clearly showing a baby sucking a thumb in the womb which again illustrates how natural it is. Thumb sucking can also be a way for children to explore and understand their environment.

Prolonged thumb-sucking can affect the alignment of the teeth and the shape of the mouth. It can cause the teeth to become misaligned or crowded, and the upper and lower jaws may become misaligned as well. This can lead to problems with biting and chewing, and may require orthodontic treatment to correct.

It can also affect the way a child speaks. It may cause a child to develop a lisp or other speech impediment, as the tongue and lips may not be positioned correctly while speaking.

There are several things that parents can do to encourage their children to stop sucking their thumbs. These may include:

  1. Praising and rewarding the child for not sucking their thumb
  2. Providing alternatives for self-soothing, such as a comfort object or stuffed animal
  3. Encouraging the child to engage in activities that keep their hands busy, such as coloring or playing with Play-Doh
  4. Using a bitter-tasting nail polish or a special thumb guard to make thumb-sucking less appealing
  5. Seeking the help of a pediatric dentist or pediatrician if the child is unable to stop sucking their thumb on their own
  6. My personal favourite – sleeping with socks on your hands

It is important for parents to be patient and understanding as their child learns to stop sucking their thumb. It can be a difficult habit to break, but with time and persistence, most children are able to stop.

One potential risk of thumb sucking is the risk of infection. Children who suck their thumb may come into contact with germs and bacteria on their hands and fingers, which can then be transferred to their mouth. This can increase the risk of respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, as well as infections of the mouth and throat.

To help reduce the risk of infection, it is important for parents to encourage their child to wash their hands frequently and to keep their nails trimmed short. Parents should also encourage their child to avoid biting their nails or picking at their cuticles, as these behaviors can also introduce germs and bacteria into the mouth.

Is thumb-sucking preferable to using a dummy?

There are some differences between a thumb and dummy use. Thumb sucking is a behavior that a child can engage in anytime, anywhere, whereas a dummy requires the child to have access to the pacifier itself.

Thumb sucking is also a behavior that children may engage in for a longer period of time, as they may continue to suck their thumb beyond the age of five or six years. It is quite a bit easier for a child to stick their thumb in their mouth when they think no ones looking than it is a dummy or pacifier! This is perhaps a key reason why dummy use is typically limited to the first few years of life.

Similarly to your child’s thumb, there is also a hygiene concern with the use of dummies. They are typically thrown or dropped on the floor frequently which means the dummy will need constant cleaning/sterilisation, or be replaced each time. Either option isn’t particularly practical when out and about. Using a specialised dummy clip can help here as it will ensure the dummy is also kept close to your baby and away from the floor.

Conclusion

In conclusion, thumb sucking is a normal and harmless behavior in infants and young children. However, prolonged thumb sucking can affect the alignment of the teeth and the shape of the mouth, and may cause problems with biting and chewing or speech impediments. It is important for parents to be aware of the potential risks of prolonged thumb sucking and to take steps to encourage their child to stop if necessary.

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