Finger habits usually occur in infants. For some infants, the potential exists for thumb or finger sucking habits to start in the womb. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there’s a thumb sucker (or a former thumb sucker) in your family.
The Risks Posed by Thumb-Sucking
According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. If the child continues past the age when their permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit. They may develop crooked teeth, crossbites, malformed roof of their mouth, and severe problems that affect jaw development resulting in overbites and anterior open bites. The severity of the problems depends upon the frequency, duration, intensity, and position of the finger in the child’s mouth. This can also affect the position of the upper and lower jaw resulting in speech impediments.
Breaking The Habit
Suggestions to break the habit of thumb sucking:
- Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb sucking, give praise when he or she doesn’t.
- Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a sock over the hand at night or when watching TV. Let your little one know that this is not a punishment, but rather a way to help remember to avoid sucking.
- Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day that he or she doesn’t suck. If your child makes it through a week without sucking, reward them with a predetermined prize. When the whole month is full, reward your child again with something great (a toy or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in his or her treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
- If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious, work on alleviating the anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
- Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching TV and movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
- Explain clearly what might happen to the teeth if he or she keeps thumb sucking. (Pictures sometimes speak louder than words)
- In some cases, a blanket or stuffed animal go hand in hand with the habit. It may require eliminating both habits at the same time to be successful.