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Habit Disorders: Thumb sucking

It is well known that many infants and young children calm themselves by sucking their thumbs. While most children will stop on their own, some children continue with thumb sucking past the age of 4 or 5.

The problem is that prolonged thumb sucking can lead to serious dental and speech problems. That is why many parents are worried about this habit disorder. However, you must know that by using lots of love and encouragement, you can help your child succeed in breaking the thumb-sucking habit.

Is thumb-sucking normal?

Thumb sucking is normal in babies and young children and very common as well. A natural sucking instinct leads some babies to suck their thumbs during their first few months of life. Some doctors claim babies suck their thumbs even before birth. Babies may also suck on their fingers, hands, or items such as pacifiers or anything similar.

Why do babies suck their thumbs?

Babies have a natural urge to suck that usually decreases after the age of 6 months. However, many babies continue to suck their thumbs to soothe themselves much longer. Eventually, thumb sucking can become a habit in babies and young children who use it to comfort themselves. Most common, they are sucking thumb when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, quiet, sleepy, or bored. The fact is that about 70% to 90% of infants suck their thumbs. Most of these children gradually stop on their own between ages three and six, but if that does not happen, it became habit disorder.

Does thumb sucking cause any problems?

It is true that prolonged thumb sucking may cause a child to develop dental problems. Thumb sucking can cause a child’s teeth to become improperly align or push the teeth outward, sometimes malforming the roof of the mouth. Malocclusion usually corrects itself when the child stops with this habit. However, the longer thumb sucking continues, the more likely it is that orthodontic treatment will need correction. A child may also develop speech problems, including mispronouncing Ts and Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue.

At what point does thumb sucking become a problem?

Thumb sucking in children younger than four years old is usually not a problem. Children who suck their thumbs frequently or with great intensity after the age of four or five, or those who continue to suck their thumbs after age five are at risk for dental or speech problems. In rare cases, thumb sucking after age 5 is in response to an emotional problem or other disorder. Commonly, it could be problem with anxiety. A child with this type of problem needs to evaluation by a health professional. Most other children stop sucking their thumbs after introducing simple treatment measures.

How is problem thumb sucking treated?

Many experts recommend ignoring thumb sucking in a child who is preschool age or younger. Most young children stop sucking their thumbs on their own, although some children who suck their thumbs may need some treatment. You should especially consider treatment if your child is pulling the hair, especially when they are between 12 and 24 months of age. It is also concern when they continue to suck a thumb often or with great intensity after the age of four or five. If you notice any of this, you should ask help to stop the behavior. It is common for child to develop dental or speech problems because of the behavior. You should also seek for help if your child feels embarrassed, or are teased or shamed by other people because of the behavior. Usually, you could treat your child at home and treatment includes parents setting rules and providing distractions. It may be helpful to limit the times and places that your child may suck his or her thumb. It could also help to put away blankets or other items your child associates with thumb sucking. Offering praise and rewards for not thumb sucking might also help your child break the habit of thumb sucking. As your child matures, usually around age 5, he or she may be able to take a more active role in treatment of stopping this habit disorder. It would be helpful that you talk to your child openly about the effects of thumb sucking. Put gloves on your child's hands or wrap the thumb with an adhesive bandage or a cloth that might help as well. Explain that the glove, bandage, or cloth is not a punishment but is only there to remind him or her not to suck the thumb. Try to develop a reward system, such as putting stickers on a calendar or otherwise recording each day that your child does not suck thumb. After an agreed-upon number of days, have a celebration for your child as successful therapy. You could also use a special nontoxic, bitter-tasting nail coating, such as Thum.

Apply it like fingernail polish to the thumbnail each morning, before bed, and whenever you see that your child wish to thumb suck. This treatment is most successful when it you combine it with a reward system. If these treatments do not appear to be successful, you could use other methods including behavioral therapy, thumb devices, or oral devices.

Behavioral therapy helps a child avoid thumb sucking through various techniques. There could help substituting tapping fingers together quietly. Behavioral therapy works best if all people involved in their child’s care follow the treatment plan.

Thumb devices, such as a thumb post, are common for children who suffer of severe thumb sucking problems. A thumb device is usually made of nontoxic plastic and child wear it over thumb. It is in place with straps that go around the wrist. A thumb device prevents a child from being able to suck his or her thumb. Child should wear this thumb device during all day. You could remove it only after the child has gone 24 hours without trying to suck a thumb. If the child starts to suck his or her thumb again, you should put this device again until your child completely get rid of this habit of thumb sucking. It is important to know that you should fit this thumb device with a health professional.

Oral devices, such as a palatal arch or crib that fits into the roof of the mouth, interfere with the pleasure a child gets from thumb sucking. It may take several months for the child to stop sucking the thumb when these devices are used. Once the child stops sucking, parents may choose to continue using the device for several months after this, to achieve permanent results. This may prevent common problem when child from starts the habit again. It is also important to know that you should fit oral devices by your child’s dentist.

What to do with thumb sucking habits?

The survival of a newborn baby depends on instinctive nutritive sucking, which allows for essential nourishment, because infants also engage in nonnutritive sucking of their fingers and thumbs. This provides them with a sense of well-being, comfort, and security. Thumb sucking however, can also have negative influences on both dental development and speech that you will be able to notice later in your child’s life. After the age of four, correction of a thumb habit may involve using psychological or physical preventive measures. The ultimate goal, however, should be to correct the cause of the habit, rather than the habit itself as some people might think. It is important that you understand the mouth provides a baby’s first contact with the external world. In addition, sucking is an infant’s first coordinated muscular activity. Babies even suck their thumb before they are born, which could prove this opinion. Since prolonged thumb sucking, can deform a child’s upper dental arch, provoke crossbite, protrude teeth, and create an open bite, your child should definitely receive treatment if there is present prolonged thumb sucking. The extent of these negative consequences depends by the duration of the habit. It is also depending from the daily frequency of the habit, and the manner in which the thumb places into the mouth. Children tend to suck their thumb when they are tired, bored, under stress, or in need of comfort, so you should understand why your child sucking the tumb at first. Taking away the soothing effects of a thumb habit may result in poor conduct by the child, and preventing a thumb habit, against the wishes of a child, may result in learning problems, bed wetting, sleep disorders, initiation of a new habit, or persistence of the old habit. Evaluation by a psychologist, pediatrician, and pediatric dentist may be necessary for the eventual resolution of the problem in many cases.

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