Many babies and toddlers suck their thumbs or fingers. In fact, it’s a completely normal, healthy way for small children to self-soothe and comfort themselves. Finger-sucking serves a purpose at a very young age, but can cause problems if the habit lingers later in childhood.
The majority of young children who suck their thumbs or fingers stop by themselves before preschool age. However, not all do. For some, it can be a difficult habit to break. But it’s important for children to stop before their permanent teeth come in, because over time it can cause permanent damage.
Finger and thumb sucking can affect the teeth alignment, palate and proper growth of jaw bones. Prolonged sucking can push the upper front teeth outward. The degree of damage varies from child to child. Vigorous sucking is more damaging than if the thumb simply “rests” in the mouth, although it’s still important to break the habit. But how?
First of all, involve the child from the beginning. Talk and decide to together, setting goals and rewards for reaching them. Experts suggest positive reinforcement and gentle reminders to encourage. Often children thumb-suck when they are anxious or stressed, so if you notice those triggers try to talk with or comfort the child.
And don’t be afraid to ask your dentist for help. He or she can explain the importance of stopping the habit, and some children respond better to another adult rather than boring mom and dad.
Finally, if you’ve tried everything and your child still can’t break the habit, there are other alternatives such as a mouth guard or bitter tasting nail polish to put on nails. These work great for some children, and you know your child best. Choose the method that works best for him or her.
Remember, although it can seem silly to some adults finger sucking is a very hard habit for some children to break. They need patience, praise and support to reach their goal.