Thumb Sucking: How Can a Cute Habit Be Such a Bad Habit?

It's impossible not to be moved by the sight of a sleepy baby sucking on their thumb. It doesn't even necessarily have to be a human baby since other primates do this too. Although adorable, thumb-sucking can pose a risk to your child's dental health once their permanent teeth develop. But how can something so cute be a problem? And how exactly can you prevent your child from sucking on their thumb?

Possible Consequences

The pressure from the rigid object (your child's thumb) on their developing permanent teeth can result in a standard malocclusion (when the upper and lower dental arches do not align when your child's mouth is closed). A more specific anterior open bite malocclusion is also possible. The angle of developing teeth might also be affected. Although these issues can be corrected with orthodontic treatment, it's obviously going to be better to avoid the problem in the first place, ideally eliminating the need for time-consuming and potentially costly children's dentistry treatment when your child is slightly older.

Positive Reinforcement

Behavioural modification is the best way to combat thumb-sucking, and ideally, it won't be a long-term effort. Your child might well grow out of the habit of their own accord without any consequences to their oral health. It's a matter of explaining to your child that sucking on their thumb is a bad idea (using terminology they're going to understand) and then offering praise and perhaps even an appropriate reward when they go for an extended period without indulging in their bad habit. You should also request that any other caregivers (teachers, daycare workers, grandparents, babysitters or older siblings) follow your lead in order to make this positive reinforcement a constant in your child's life, regardless of the source.

Other Options

When this positive reinforcement is insufficient, you might need to employ more drastic measures. These can be used at your discretion and should only be a short-term option. You can apply an appropriate bite deterrent to your child's thumb, resulting in an unpleasant taste when they put their thumb in their mouth. You might not like the sound of this idea, and it has its drawbacks, such as needing to be regularly reapplied. You could also purchase a thumb guard, which is a flexible tube that covers your child's thumb, making it difficult for them to put it into their mouth. It's held in place with a childproof fastener. These methods might seem extreme, but they can be beneficial when your child refuses to stop sucking their thumb.

Although thumb-sucking is a cute habit, it's also a bad one.

To learn more about this, contact a children's dentistry clinic.

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