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Thumb Sucking – New Britain, CT

How to Break THE Habit

Picture your child sleeping in your mind right now…what do you see? For the overwhelming majority of parents, the image probably has their child sucking their thumb or finger as they blissfully slumber. Most young children develop this kind of habit, and many are able to stop on their own as they age. For some, however, the habit is rather persistent, which can actually cause a multitude of issues as their teeth start to come in.

At Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, our dental office is filled with parents wondering how they can get their children to stop, and we’re more than happy to offer a multitude of solutions that are proven to work.

What You Should Know About Thumb Sucking

Child sucking his thumb

About 80-90% of children will habitually suck their thumb or finger at some point. This behavior is perfectly normal, and some even start it in the womb! This is a natural reflex that helps an infant comfort themselves, which is why so many children end up falling asleep while doing it.

Most children naturally stop sucking their thumb/finger between the ages of two to four as the habit becomes less useful, but some will keep it up even into their preschool years. While harmless at first, continually having something in the mouth can interfere with the development of the teeth and jaw if left unchecked. If your child is still sucking their thumb when their permanent teeth start to erupt, it’s time to take action to curtail any future problems.

How To Get Your Child to Stop

Child sucking thumb

Getting a child to stop sucking their thumb or finger can be very sensitive as this habit often serves as anxiety relief. Fortunately, our team has a lot of experience in this area, so here are a few strategies that should make the process as smooth as possible:

1. It’s best to be supportive at all times throughout the process. Punishing your child will only create more anxiety, which will make them more likely to suck their thumb/finger when you’re not around! Praise them whenever you can.

2. You can put a band-aid or a sock over your child’s hand at night. Be clear with your child that this isn’t a punishment, but rather a gentle reminder that they shouldn’t suck on their thumb/finger. With a little creativity, you can even make it sort of a game.

3. Create a calendar, and whenever your child doesn’t suck their thumb/finger for a whole day, give them a sticker. After a week or so, let them choose a prize, and offer a bigger one if they can make it the entire month.

4. If your child only sucks their thumb when they are anxious, try to figure out what is causing these feelings so you can help them develop other coping mechanisms.

5. Take note of when your child sucks their thumb/finger to figure out what may be triggering it.

6. Explain as gently as you can what can happen to your child’s teeth if they continue to suck their thumb/finger. Don’t try to scare them, just be honest so they can make their own decision.

7. If your child is particularly stubborn, we can place a small orthodontic device in their mouth that prevents them from engaging in the habit. This will force them to break it, and we’ll remove it after a few weeks. Fortunately, most of the time, the above strategies are all that is needed.