Few habits can be traced back to pre-birth activity, but thumb sucking is one of them. Many babies are caught sucking their thumb on their first ultrasound reflecting a child’s natural inclination to self-soothe. Most kids grow out of this habit by the age of five, but for others it can be very challenging to stop.
Thumbsucking is a benign habit until about the age of six when the permanent incisors break through. When these teeth come in, they continue to do so until they hit something. If that something is teeth— perfect! But if that something is a thumb, the front teeth will stop erupting prematurely resulting in an open bite. Continued thumb sucking will push the front teeth forward on the top causing the top front teeth to stick out with spaces between them. The suction created by the habit can also cause the palate to narrow and create a crossbite.
The number one rule for thumb sucking cessation is to get your child on board with WANTING to stop. If a child does not want to stop sucking their thumb, there is no appliance or technique in the world that can force them to stop. Begin talking about stopping the habit early, at about four years of age, so that they begin to associate removing their thumb habit as part of growing up and becoming a big kid.
Have your child be an active participant in trying to break the habit. Kids respond wonderfully to positive reinforcement. Display a large monthly calendar in a prominent area in your house. For every night that your child does not suck their thumb put a sticker on that day. Once they have 21 days in a row, plan a big celebration for them. Whether it’s going to see a movie, a concert, or maybe a treat at their favorite restaurant, talk about this event often and reinforce their efforts. This is a great teaching opportunity to show them that they can achieve a goal if they work at it.
Night time is the biggest trigger for thumb sucking. If a child uses a “lovie” or blanket to go to sleep, it may be reinforcing the habit. Try asking your child to put the “lovie” to bed in their own big kid spot to remove the trigger from the sleep environment.
There are several orthodontic appliances that can be used as reminders to help kids that need extra attention. These devices are only reminders and cannot force a child to stop sucking their thumb. Talk to your child about why they should want to stop to get them on board with the process. Involving your child, will make habit cessation much more successful and rewarding for you and your child.
If you have any questions or concerns, please call us to set up a time to chat!