Finger habits usually occur in infants. For some infants, the potential exists for thumb or finger-sucking habits to start in the womb.
The Risks Posed by Thumb-Sucking
The American Dental Association recommends that children stop sucking their thumbs by age four at the very latest. Failure to break the habit by age four can lead to poor oral health and significant orthodontic issues. They may develop crooked teeth, crossbites, a malformed roof of their mouth, and severe problems that affect jaw development resulting in overbites and anterior open bites. The severity of the problems depends upon the frequency, duration, intensity, and position of the finger in the child’s mouth. This can also affect the position of the upper and lower jaw resulting in speech impediments.
Breaking The Habit
Suggestions to break the habit of thumb sucking:
- Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when they don’t.
- Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a sock over the hand at night or when watching TV. Let your little one know that this is not a punishment, but rather a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.
- Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day that they don’t suck. If your child makes it through a week without sucking, reward them with a predetermined prize. When the whole month is full, reward your child again with something great (a toy or a new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in their treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
- If you notice your child sucking when they are anxious, work on alleviating the anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
- Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching TV and movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
- Explain clearly what might happen to the teeth if they keep thumb-sucking.
- In some cases, a blanket or stuffed animal goes hand in hand with the habit. It may require eliminating both habits at the same time to be successful.