thumb sucking

Thumb Sucking: When to Worry




Is your child a thumb sucker? Rest assured that most thumb sucking behaviors are normal. Infants can turn to thumbs or pacifiers as a great way to self-sooth. For the first two years of life, thumb sucking should not be a cause for worry. However, problems can occur when thumb sucking persists past age two.

The following issues can arise from thumb sucking past the age of two:

  • Oral musculature malformation could be a potential side effect of persistent thumb sucking.
  • Incorrect tongue placement and teeth can form into an open bite.
  • Tongue thrust is another potentially harmful side effect of thumb sucking.
  • Common sounds affected by incorrect tongue placement are /s,z,t,d,n,l/.
  • Tongue thrust is a normal part of a pediatric swallowing pattern but should be replaced gradually by a mature swallow. Thumb sucking may affect the maturation of tongue patterns during swallowing.

If you suspect any of these problems, a family dentist can help to determine if the use of the pacifier or thumb is causing structural problems in the teeth or closing of the mouth.

What can you do about thumb sucking?

  • Try and determine when, where and why your child is in need of soothing.
  • Search for the root of the behavior i.e. Is she tired? Is she upset? Does she only suck when holding a certain stuffed animal?
  • Exchange thumbs for a small sensory object or sugar free gum (if the child is old enough).
  • EXPLAIN to your child that thumb sucking can be harmful to her body.
  • Praise praise praise your child when she chooses not to suck her thumb.
  • Give your child praise frequently, randomly, and in small increments for being “thumb free”.
  • Expect to take one step forward and two steps back when weaning thumb sucking!

Watch a Pediatric Therapy TV Episode on the development or oral motor skills here.

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