Habits

Thumb Sucking

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are not a substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult your pediatric dentist.

Click here to download a chart to help your child break their thumbsucking habit.

Put a star on each day that your child doesn’t suck their thumb or fingers. If the cycle breaks, start all over again. Reward your child if they go 30 consecutive days without sucking.

Helping a Child Get Through Thumb Sucking

  • Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.

  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.

  • Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.

  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.

  • Dr. Swearingen can help encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue. (Chart Method)

  • If these approaches don’t work, Dr. Swearingen may recommend an oral appliance to aid in correcting your child's habit.

Does Your Child Grind His Teeth at Night? (Bruxism)

Parents are often concerned about the nocturnal grinding of teeth (bruxism). Often the first indication is the noise created by the child grinding on their teeth during sleep. Or, the parents may notice wear (teeth getting shorter) to the dentition. One theory as to the cause involves a psychological component. Stress due to a new environment, divorce, changes at school, etc. can influence a child to grind their teeth. Another theory relates to pressure in the inner ear at night. If there are pressure changes (like in an airplane during take-off and landing when people are chewing gum, etc. to equalize pressure) the child will grind by moving his jaw to relieve this pressure.

The majority of cases of pediatric bruxism do not require any treatment. If excessive wear or the teeth (attrition) is present, then a mouth guard (night guard) may be indicated.

The good news is most children outgrow bruxism. The grinding gets less between the ages 6-9 and children tend to stop grinding between ages 9-12. If you suspect bruxism, discuss this with Kids 1st Dental.