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little girl sitting in the car sucking her thumb

It’s sweet when you see your little one sucking his thumb, as he drifts off to sleep. Or maybe she sticks a finger in her mouth when she is sad or uncertain. Either way, it’s endearing. But is thumb sucking as innocent as it seems? Can it cause dental problems? And when should a parent intervene?

At Smiles Dentistry for Kids in Overland Park, KS, we are here to answer the many questions you have as you navigate the mysterious world of parenting. Dr. Matt, Dr. Craven, and the rest of the team are highly knowledgeable, not only about pediatric dentistry, but also about children and their needs in general. That’s why, when you visit our practice, both you and your child will feel more confident and comfortable. 

To learn more about thumb sucking and other oral health concerns, contact our office today.

Why do children suck their thumbs (or fingers)?

Thumb and finger sucking are both behaviors known as non-nutritive sucking. This is the type of sucking that babies do at the start of breastfeeding before milk lets down. Pacifier use is also a form of non-nutritive sucking. 

Non-nutritive sucking is extremely common, affecting about 90% of newborns. Thumb sucking as a habit typically begins between the ages of 2 and 4 months. It gives infants and toddlers a sense of security and attachment, helping them to calm their nervous system. It also establishes oral awareness, essential for speech and proper eating habits.

Most children naturally outgrow their sucking habit between the ages of 2 and 4. 

Thumb Sucking and Its Effect on Teeth

In all likelihood, you don’t need to be concerned if your child sucks his thumb. But the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends intervention if your child continues non-nutritive sucking beyond the age of 5 or 6. The habit can have serious consequences as permanent teeth start to emerge. These include: 

  • An overbite
  • Gap between the upper and lower teeth
  • An overextended upper jaw
  • Crooked teeth 
  • Tongue thrust and speech impediments 

How to Help Your Child Break the Habit

Remember, thumb sucking is a form of self-soothing, so punishment and shaming is counterproductive. Instead, use a system of positive reinforcement. Praise your child when she refrains from sucking, or offer a small reward, such as an extra story before bed, a trip to the park, or even a big hug. And start small. Challenge your child not to suck her thumb for a set time, such as an hour before nap, rather than asking for the whole day.

Another important step is to identify why your child sucks his thumb in the first place. When older children continue the habit, there typically are emotional or psychological factors at play. Help your child to name his feelings and to adopt healthier coping mechanisms.

If nothing seems to be working, consult your pediatric dentist. In rare cases, he may recommend additional support, such as an oral appliance. And he can determine if your child needs treatment to address the impact of prolonged thumb sucking.

Contact Smiles Dentistry for Kids for Additional Support 

To learn more or to schedule an appointment, contact our office today. 

Reach us via our website or call us at (913) 685-9990.

Smiles Dentistry For Kids

14700 Metcalf Ave, Suite 110
Overland Park, KS 66223
(913) 685-9990
8:00am - 4:30pm
8:00am - 4:30pm
8:00am - 4:30pm
8:00am - 4:30pm
8:00am - 4:30pm

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