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Q.        

How can thumb-sucking be damaging to a child’s teeth?

A.        

Thumb sucking is a very common habit which is regarded to give an innocent look to your child. It has been observed that almost 90% of children falling under the age group of 2- 4 years have this habit. It is harmless if it is practiced and left in the preschool age itself. It becomes deleterious to oral health when the child persists thumb-sucking till the age of 5 or 6 years. At about this time, the permanent teeth start to erupt.

Why does a child indulge in the habit of thumb-sucking?

During the early phase of life, thumb-sucking is a sign for a mother to understand that her child is hungry and it is time for her to feed him. Usually when the baby’s tummy is full it forgets about sucking the thumb. At times babies show that they are getting bored by sucking their thumb. Gradually, the kids become used to this habit because they find it quite pacifying when they are under stress or fear. At an early age of six months to two years, it is practically impossible to curb this habit, primarily because the kids are not grown enough to be taught anything concrete.  Usually, the reason why children tend to continue thumb sucking is out of habit due to hunger, boredom or stress. At this point, it’s important to try to stop the habit before it leads to any permanent damage to your child’s permanent teeth.

How can thumb-sucking be damaging to a child’s teeth?

It is important to stop the habit at the right time to prevent various ill-effects of thumb-sucking like-

  • The child’s teeth can be pushed more facially than the normal position. This will lead to a dental problem called overbite.
  • Due to pressure of the thumb on palate during thumb-sucking, the palate shape may get altered or even grow more sensitive.
  • It can cause the development of speech defects like a lisp due to alteration in the jaw bone positioning.
  • Each time the child put his thumb in mouth, he is ingesting a large number of bacteria from the outer environment and those on his thumb.

How can I stop this habit?

First of all, being a parent you must be able to muster all your patience and love to resolve this issue as it takes time to make a child discontinue a habit that is so deep-rooted. Try out these tips-

  1. Never scold or rebuke your child for thumb-sucking. It is only going to increase the level of stress and thereby making the child more adamant in continuing with the habit.
  2. Gently teach your child the facts regarding thumb-sucking and the adverse long term effects it entails.  At the same time, learn to manage your temper when you find that your child is not taking heed to or following your instructions. It is a time taking procedure.
  3. Try to find out the actual cause of stress the child is facing. Once you eliminate those factors, half of the job is done. If the child understands that he will be emotionally secure even without sucking his thumb, he will tend to quit it.
  4. Distraction is another good method you can try. The moment your child puts his thumb into his mouth, give him his favourite toy or simply sing a song.

If the above mentioned tricks fail, meet a dentist at the earliest. There are removable and fixed prostheses that help the child to quit the habit. For instance, a thumb cap is a plastic appliance that has to be placed on the thumb of the child. Each time the thumb is taken into the mouth, the child will suck the plastic cap which will not give the same feeling as his thumb. The child may also need some amount of counselling.

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