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Thumb sucking is a common habit among children, and it is also a common worry for parents and pediatric dentists. There are often questions surrounding thumb sucking and the age at which a child needs to quit the habit. While thumb sucking is common and normal in young children, there are clear health benefits that come with discouraging your child from sucking his or her thumb past a certain age.

Developing the habit of thumb sucking or sucking on a pacifier is a completely normal habit for infants. It is a natural reflex at this stage, and it often helps soothe a child or helps them fall asleep. The habit often stops naturally before a child starts preschool. The American Dental Association encourages parents to begin actively discouraging the habit by age four.

The reason behind discouraging thumb sucking is that it could begin to affect a child’s mouth and developing jaw, which could lead to problems like jaw pain. It could cause permanent teeth to be misaligned later in life. More vigorous thumb sucking could ever lead to changes in the palate that could later affect the child’s permanent bite.

If the habit continues past the age of five or six, the changes to the mouth and teeth may include the child’s front teeth jutting out and the inability for the upper and lower front teeth to touch, leaving your child with an open bite. This will affect the alignment of other permanent teeth. If this happens, you will need to visit your pediatric dentist or orthodontist for evaluation and possible solutions. Your child may require braces or other treatments in order to correct the open bite.

Children often figure out on their own that the behavior of thumb sucking is not acceptable when they are older due to social situations and reactions, but there are steps that parents can take to prevent the behavior if it doesn’t stop naturally.

It can be helpful to create a reward system to track the child’s progress of quitting the habit. For example, parents can chart each day that the child goes without sucking his or her thumb and reward a sticker for each of those days. Another idea would be to cover the thumb or hand with something like a bandage, sock or glove. Covering the thumb or hand usually discourages the habit. You can also say goodbye to the habit with a larger reward when the child has gone so many days without sucking his or her thumb to create a sense of finality.

No matter the method, it is important to be positive and supportive with your child! Criticism of the behavior or negative reaction to it may cause anxiety that makes them want to continue the behavior even more. The use of positive reinforcement should make the process a much easier release for the child and encourage them not to return to the habit.

If you are near the Roscoe Village, Lakeview or Northside areas of Chicago, visit our website or call us today to make an appointment to talk about ways to stop your child’s habit before it creates problems! Here, at Brushin’ on Belmont, we specialize in pediatric dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, general dentistry, and orthodontics, and have all the tools to help your child!