Toddler Oral Health: Tips for Dealing with Thumb-sucking

Everyone handles stress differently, and toddlers have their own way of coping with this issue. It might seem like toddlers would have no cares in the world, but the truth is that life can be hectic, even for children. Think about how your child gets frustrated when he or she cannot get his or her point across. Think of all the times you denied your child a piece of candy or a toy. Your child does not understand why a treat was denied. All children know is that their parents are providers, but they decided to stop providing. This can stress out toddlers and encourage them to suck their thumbs. This little habit causes concern for pediatric dentists as well, and you will find out why.

Why do Children Resort to Thumb-sucking?

You should know that thumb-sucking is not irrational or abnormal; in fact, it is a natural habit that most children develop. The habit is associated with the rooting reflex. Human beings are born with certain natural desires or requirements. Your child is simply doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, which is sticking things into the mouth to feed on. Of course, the thumb is not food, but it is a worthy substitute when the breast is not around. Sucking the thumb helps the toddler relax and think of nourishment, which is the reason why your toddler uses it to relax.

Your Houston pediatric dentist, Dr. Linh Luu wants you to know that even though this habit is natural, it can also hurt your child's overall dental health. Aggressive thumb-sucking or sucking past a certain age might lead to misalignment or even tooth protrusion. The issue could distort your child's palate due to the pressure caused by the movement. Of course, most children let go of this habit by the time they are four years of age, but this is not always the case.

Transitioning Away from Thumb-sucking

At Bunker Hill Pediatric Dentistry, we understand that some of these issues can scare parents, and there are a few things that you can do to help your toddler transition away from this habit.

One trick is to avoid mentioning the issue to your child for about a month. This might help children forget that they resort to thumb-sucking and may naturally begin to phase it out of their lives.

Another tip is to try to reward your child every time he or she does not suck his or her thumb. You can keep a visual chart and have a prize waiting for your child at the end of the day or week. This does not have to be expensive, a simple treat would be perfect.

You might also want to try to engage your child and let him or her become part of the solution. Let your child work with you in dealing with this issue, and it might end up being a family project.

Of course, we can be helpful during this transition. We can explain everything that might happen if your child does not get thumb-sucking under control. It is not uncommon that there may be power issues between the parent and child, which is where we can be of some assistance. Please, do not resort to scolding or using techniques like placing vinegar on the finger nail to stop your child from sucking the thumb. These techniques are troublesome and may end up causing the child more stress.

If you sense that your child may need specific help or encouragement to move away from thumb-sucking, please feel free to mention it during your visit.  We are here to help guide you through your options.