Achild sleeping in bed and sucking their thumb.
Usually, children outgrow thumb sucking by ages 3 to 4, but if your child has not grown out of it by then, further techniques are needed.

Thumb Sucking Prevention

Thumb sucking is a natural reflexive behavior of babies that helps them feel secure and comfortable. Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes. They learn to suck their thumbs even before they are born. Some infants do this behavior as early as their first week of life.

Babies are able to explore their world when they put fingers or objects into their mouths. It helps them to soothe themselves and fall asleep. They usually do it when they are bored, tired, or upset.

Thumb sucking is most prevalent in children below 2 years old. Generally, children outgrow the habit by the age of 3 or 4. But if your child does not outgrow this habit by a necessary age, then thumb sucking prevention techniques are needed.

What Are the Side Effects of Thumb Sucking?

Only a few children continue thumb sucking until they reach 5 years old and above. It is the time wherein thumb sucking may become a problem. It will be a cause of concern, especially if it becomes a constant habit of your child.

The complications that it may cause depend on how often your child sucks their thumb. You have to observe how your child’s habit is deeply entrenched. It may be a less serious problem if they only do it at certain times of the day, like bedtime, or only in front of some specific people.

Dental Problems

Thumb sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and position of the teeth. These problems may lead to abnormal bite and even speech problems.

One of the permanent side effects of thumb sucking is dental malocclusion. It can be either open bite or overbite. Open bite occurs when the top and bottom front teeth do not touch even when your child’s mouth is closed. Overbite is a dental misalignment where the top teeth cover the bottom teeth when your child’s mouth is closed.

Oral infection may also occur in teeth or in gums when dirt and bacteria in hands are transferred into the mouth.

Skin Problems

Aside from oral health problems, skin problems may also arise due to thumb sucking. Vigorous thumb sucking can dry out the skin of the thumb.

Dryness can cause chapped skin, calluses, and fingernail infections. Long term thumb sucking may also change the shape of the thumb, making it thinner or elongated.

Speech Problems

The dental problems caused by thumb sucking often affects the speech development of a child. Your child may have a lisping disorder. When tongue muscles do not develop correctly, your child may have difficulty pronouncing consonant sounds like “D”, “S”, and “T”. These speech impediments will make it harder for your child to communicate effectively.

Social Issues

Thumb sucking may also cause social difficulties for your child. Some children do not want to play or be with a kid who is a thumb sucker. Your child might be teased and become a target of ridicule. This may lower their self-confidence and give them a high level of stress.

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How to Encourage Your Child to Stop the Habit

Most toddlers stop thumb sucking without any parental intervention. Some experts recommend addressing the habit before a child turns 3. In some cases, a little intervention may help; in other cases, not paying attention to it is enough to stop the behavior.

If you are concerned about your child’s habit, it is best to seek out the opinion of healthcare professionals before you take any action to stop your child from doing so. It can be a dentist or a pediatrician.

1. Talk to Your Child About the Issue

Breaking the habit is much easier if your child is willing to stop. Involve your child in addressing the problem. Explaining to them the harmful effects of thumb sucking will help them decide to quit.

2. Find Out Why They’re Sucking Their Thumb

Determine the reasons why your child sucks their thumb. You may curiously ask them, but do not confront them. If they do it in response to stress, identify the real issue, and provide comfort in an appropriate way. You can hug your child and give them reassuring words.

3. Offer Motivation

Positive motivation can help a lot. Praise your child and offer rewards and incentives when they successfully avoid thumb sucking for a period of time. You can do this until they make it to about two to three weeks without sucking.

4. Implement Visual Reminders

Use visual reminders like a bow or elastic band tied around their thumb - make sure it’s not too tight! Another option is a temporary tattoo on the back of their hand. These items will remind them to stop before they even start sucking their thumb.

5. Use a Finger Guard

There are some tools like hand stopper and finger guard designed to physically prevent your child from sucking their thumb. However, these can limit the movement of your child’s hands, making it hard for them to play.

Seeking Professional Help

Along with these methods, a dentist can guide you throughout the process of breaking your child’s habit. Set an appointment with a dentist and ask them to talk to your child about taking good care of their mouth and teeth. Your child may need a little push from someone other than you to stop the habit. The dentist will also determine whether the habit is affecting your child’s oral development.

If your child seems resistant to any of these methods, it could be a sign of a more serious problem. In this case, you should seek the advice of mental health professional.