Sucking Thumbs: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

It is not uncommon to see babies or young children sucking on their fingers or thumbs. In fact, babies may begin sucking their thumbs while still in the womb. Previous studies have suggested that 70% to 90% of children have engaged in sucking behavior. In early childhood, this behavior represents a natural reflex and is not a cause for alarm. If it persists, however, and is still occurring when a child’s permanent teeth are coming in, dental problems can result.

Why Might Children Suck Their Thumbs?

Babies may place their fingers or thumbs in their mouths in response to a natural sucking reflex. Since sucking on their thumbs gives them a feeling of security, it can become a habit during times when they need to be soothed or to go to sleep. Children might also suck their thumbs if they are feeling stressed, bored, hungry, or tired.

What Help Can a Dentist Provide?

Scheduling an appointment for your child with an emergency dentist South Weymouth MA can be helpful for multiple reasons. For some children, having a talk with a dentist may be more effective than talking with their parents. The dentist will also be able to recognize potential problems and evaluate the current condition of the child’s mouth and teeth. As well, he or she can recommend a dental appliance if one is needed.

What Are Some Other Useful Techniques?

It can be helpful to identify the triggers for the unwanted behavior. If a parent recognizes that the child is sucking his or her thumb as a response to stressful situations, the parent could comfort the child by offering a hug or speaking reassuringly. Children could also be encouraged to squeeze a stuffed toy or pillow as an alternative behavior when they are feeling stressed.

Parents can help the child to set goals related to avoiding sucking on thumbs or fingers. Praise or rewards can then be given to positively reinforce the behavior. Progress can be recorded — for example, by putting stickers on a calendar — to remind the child that he or she can be successful.

Jackson Thomas

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