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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Thumb-Sucking

Thumb-sucking is a natural habit that oftentimes begins in the womb. However, despite the fact that it’s an innate habit, many parents find themselves worrying over how to get their child to stop. And as well they should.

As an infant and toddler, thumb-sucking is a comfort habit, but as the child grows older, it turns into less of a comfort and more of an inconvenience. Past a certain age, thumb-sucking becomes detrimental to the formation of the teeth and can cause severe lasting damage.

So, what can you do to prevent permanent damage to your child’s smile? We’re going to outline a few ways to wean your child off the habit in as pain-free a way as possible—for you and them. But first, let’s outline the major problems caused by thumb-sucking so that you can have a clear idea – and fresh motivation – as to why you need to help your child break this habit ASAP.

Problems Caused By Thumb-Sucking

While thumb-sucking is healthy for the first year or two of a child’s life, it can cause permanent damage to the teeth if it continues beyond that. These problems can include:

1.      Buck-teeth, alteration in face shape and eventually, an overbite.

2.      Excessive thumb-sucking pushes the front teeth out of alignment, which interferes with speech patterns, thereby creating a lisp.

3.      Malformation is an extreme consequence of thumb-sucking, but it does occur when the upper and lower jaws become misaligned and the habit STILL isn’t broken.

Thumb-sucking is a notoriously difficult habit to break—partially because it’s a habit that’s been ingrained since before birth, and partially because the whole process is so hard on both parents and children that many parents give up trying almost immediately after starting. To avoid giving up so easily, here are a few tricks you can use to break the habit in as pain free a way as possible—for you and them:

1.      Reward your child. Every time they don’t suck their thumb when they normally would, given them a hug or praise. Positive reinforcement is always the best way to encourage healthy habits and break not-so-good ones. And whatever you do, don’t scold them.

2.      Don’t nag. Adults don’t like to be nagged, and neither do children. If your child feels as if you’re nagging them, they’ll only become defensive.

3.      Keep track of their progress. For every day your child doesn’t suck their thumb, place a gold star, smiley face or some kind of indicator on the calendar. Set goals. For instance, for every week your child doesn’t suck their thumb, take them on an outing, or buy them that toy they’ve been wanting.

4.      Use reminders (if necessary). If none of the above tactics work for your child, have them wear mittens, or a gross tasting (and non-toxic!) nail paint on all of the problem fingers. At bedtime, place a Band-Aid over the thumb as a reminder.

5.      Offer distractions! The best way to get someone to stop thinking about something is to get them to think about something else. So when your child is having “quiet time,” or time when they’d normally suck their thumb, give them a toy or cuddle buddy to distract them with.

How Often Should I Reward Them?

Many parents are afraid of “over-rewarding” their child, especially if they feel like what they’re rewarding them for should be the norm, and not exemplary. However, parents must keep in mind that NOT sucking their thumb is exemplary, and should be rewarded in much the same way that good grades or athletic accomplishments are rewarded in older children. That being said, to make the rewards truly count, start off by rewarding your child every night they don’t suck their thumb. As they get better about not doing it, increase the time between rewards to every other day, to once a week and eventually, to 30 days.

But Just Like with Most Things…

…your child may drift back into their comfort habit—even if they’ve been good about it for days or even weeks. While you may not understand it, don’t get frustrated with them. Simply remind them of what they’re doing and go back to rewarding them daily until you feel they’re back on the wagon.

Want Help?

There are several people you can turn to for help if you feel that you’re just not getting through to your child. A few I can think of offhand are:

·         Your dentist

·         Your pediatrician

·         Your doctor

·         Your public or oral health services department

As your dentist, we highly recommend ThumbGuard if all else fails. While the ThumbGuard doesn’t necessarily prevent thumb-sucking, it does take away the enjoyment by taking away the suction—the sensation that all kids suck their thumbs for. With a 95% success rate, it’s almost guaranteed that when you break the suction, you break the habit.

At Lakeshore Family Dentistry, we can help you select the ThumbGuard that will work best for your child and their needs. Schedule an appointment today so that we can help you put a stop to the bad habit before it’s too late!

Want to learn more about the ThumbGuard? Visit www.tguard.com

Our team wants your child to grow up with the bright, beautiful smile all individuals deserve. Let us help you at this crucial time in their life – visit us at http://www.lakeshorefamilydentist.com/library/23/PreventionTipsforChildren.html or give us a call today at (651) 429-3348.

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