Sometimes it seems the main job of a parent is to worry. And when your child is young you’re probably worried if he or she is sucking their thumb too long. Is the thumb sucking damaging their teeth? Should they have stopped by this point?
When it comes to this area, there is a poster child for thumb sucking — Linus van Pelt. While Peanuts never really seems to tell the actual ages of its cast, they have to be in elementary school. And where is his mom or dad worrying away wondering if Linus’s teeth are doomed?
At Drs. of Smiles, pediatric dentistry is a big part of our practice. Plus, since you’re probably a little worried about your little thumb sucker, here’s some information on this universal behavior and when it should be curtailed to prevent damage to your child’s teeth.
What is normal thumb sucking?
Thumb sucking is a natural behavior that is pretty much standard in infants. It is a comforting mechanism for the child. In most cases, this begins far earlier than you would expect — sometimes during an ultrasound, you’ll see a fetus in the womb sucking his or her thumb. Thumb sucking can help a child feel secure and happy, and it can be soothing when there is anxiety such as when the child is separated from his or her parents. Thumb sucking or pacifier use can also help a child fall asleep.
How long can it go on?
As a parent, thumb sucking and your child could make you hear two songs. Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On could be on one side while you’re waiting for this behavior to finally run its course. Or you could be belting out Etta James’s At Last when your child finally ditches the thumb for good.
Back to Linus. Carrying around his blanket and thumb sucking well into elementary school is no way to go through life. And that’s not just an arbitrary timeframe: the American Dental Association recommends discouraging thumb sucking by the age of four. The reasoning here is that the child’s overall bite is developing, and prolonged sucking can begin to affect the development of your child’s mouth, jaw, and teeth. Continued thumb sucking can cause the permanent teeth to be misaligned.
If it continues into the five or six-year-old age the pressure from sucking will lead to changes in the mouth and teeth. The ADA says that the front teeth may begin to jut forward and the child’s bite will begin to open, meaning the upper and lower teeth won’t be able to touch. As the permanent teeth descend, they will start to become misaligned.
Ending thumb sucking
For most kids, one day they just bid the thumb adieu. This is usually more the case when the parents simply ignore the behavior. Drawing undue attention to thumb sucking can make the child hang on to it far longer. Interaction with peers starts to play a role in dropping the thumb sucking, too. Kids start to understand that there is a point where sucking the thumb isn’t cool in certain social situations or when they compare to other kids.
But some kids want to be like Linus. Here are some things to do:
- Offer a pacifier to infants. They are easier to take away, obviously.
- Establish a chart and reward system, plotting progress on quitting.
- Encourage and praise all attempts to stop thumb sucking in your child.
If you have questions about thumb sucking and your child, don’t hesitate to call us at Drs. of Smiles, 480-834-6991.