For years, thumb or finger sucking was considered a sign of weak moral character, and parents were advised to break the habit forcibly. It is now generally believed that sucking is a normal reflex and helps relax and comfort the child. Thumb and finger sucking can start at a very young age, during the first few months of life. Most children stop this habit by the age of 2 to 4 years old. If the child continues to suck his thumb past the age of 5, there may be dental problem concerns as well as peer rejection and teasing.
Finger or thumb sucking can cause problems such as crooked teeth, abnormal swallowing, speech defects, a lisp and distorted facial structures. The frequency and intensity of the habit will determine what effect it will have on the teeth and face.
Some suggestions on prevention and treatment:
If you’re concerned that any of these problems may develop in your child, discuss it with your dentist. He or she can tell you other various methods to wean him of the habit.
- Since sucking is a form of comfort, give your child comfort and understanding rather than scolding. For the newborn, replace a sucking thumb or finger with a pacifier.
- Reward your child when you notice he’s not sucking during a difficult situation or when he’s going to sleep. A chart with stars or stickers for days when your child was successful, trip to the park, etc.
- A band-aid or sock on the hand, before sleep, may be a helpful way of reminding him not to suck his thumb.
- Replace routine activities when your child is likely to suck a finger such as watching television, with other activities. Encouragement and positive rewards will prove to be more successful.