Children’s Dental Health Month: Break Thumb-Sucking Habits

Toddler with thumb-sucking habit.Did you know February is known for more than just Valentine’s day? Besides tasty candy and beautiful flowers, it is also National Children’s Dental Health Month. Although you might think your child’s oral hygiene habits and routine dental visits are enough, there are a few bad habits that can leave a lasting mark on their smile, like thumb-sucking. Your pediatric dentist has the tips you need to break the habit to nurture a healthy and attractive smile.

Thumb-Sucking and Pacifiers

Infants are born with the need to suck because it’s a reflex that’s vital to their nutrition; however, many children use non-nutritional alternatives, like their fingers, thumbs, or pacifiers. It can help your child self-soothe to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Research shows it can also lessen SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Although pacifiers and thumb-sucking have their benefits, the habits can cause lasting consequences for your child’s smile.

Thumb-Sucking and Dental Health

Your children’s dentist will recommend your child stop sucking habits between the ages of 2 to 4 to prevent causing damage to their developing smile. Prolonged thumb and finger-sucking can change the shape of their mouth, which can alter the alignment of their teeth. Depending on the severity, it can impact their speech, breathing, and oral functions. If the habit isn’t resolved before the adult teeth erupt, your child may need serious orthodontic intervention.

How to Stop Thumb-Suckers

Thumb-sucking can be a hard habit to break, but there are a few ways to make the process easier for both you and your child:

  • Use positive reinforcement whenever you notice your child trying to stop the sucking.
  • Use small rewards, like a special teddy bear that they can have only when they don’t suck on their thumb.
  • Create a sticker chart to establish goals. Your child can place a sticker on the chart when going a certain amount of time without thumb-sucking.
  • Keep their hands busy to distract them from thumb-sucking.

If your child is having difficulty stopping, their pediatric dentist may recommend a palatal crib or rake. The devices are often only needed for a few months.

How to Wean Pacifiers

Thankfully, weaning from pacifiers is a little easier than breaking the habit of thumb-sucking using a few simple tips:

  • Poke a hole in the nipple to change the sucking sensation, discouraging your child from wanting it.
  • Ask your child if they’d like to donate their pacifier to another baby to help them let go of it.
  • Attach the pacifier to a stuffed animal, so they can see it but can’t use it.
  • Tell your child you’ve misplaced the pacifier.

Invest in a Healthy Smile

Don’t let thumb-sucking and pacifiers harm your child’s smile. You can help ensure their teeth and gums have everything they need to thrive with the right habits at home.

About Dr. Vince Fava

Dr. Fava earned his dental degree from the University of Toronto. He has completed advanced training in periodontology and many other specialties to provide services for patients of all ages. If it’s time for your child’s next preventive visit, contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

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