Thumb-sucking is fine, but not for too long!

Par Dr. Normand Bach 21/06/2018

We’ve all been there. Thumb-sucking is a phenomenon born of instinct, forming a natural part of any
child’s development. However, some children still feel the need to suck their thumb or a pacifier well
beyond what many specialists consider to be the normal age. Are you the parent of a child who sucks
their thumb or uses a pacifier? No problem! In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know
about the topic!

Thumb-sucking is fine, but not for too long!

While some parents might say that it isn’t a big deal and you should just let children develop at their
own pace without rushing them, numerous studies reveal that thumb-sucking beyond a certain age
can lead to serious problems in children’s oral development.

Childhood swallowing and adult swallowing

Any form of sucking—whether a thumb, a pacifier or breast feeding—past the age of two or three is
widely considered by orthodontists to be detrimental. Apparently, these habits hinder the child from
progressing from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult swallowing pattern.
It’s this prolonged
pattern of infantile swallowing that is often the cause of the problems observed in children who consult an orthodontist. This type of swallowing is performed as if the tongue is at rest, and as a result, it exerts pressure on the front of the mouth. Over time, this may be responsible for a palate that isn’t wide enough, a jaw that isn’t long enough or incisors that protrude too much.

Thumb or pacifier? Which is more acceptable?

According to orthodontists, a pacifier can be even more detrimental than a thumb if the sucking habit
endures beyond the normal age.
Children know that if they stop sucking a pacifier, it will fall, so this
encourages a tendency to suck on it continuously in order to keep it in their mouth. Of course, this isn’t the case with their thumb, as children know that it will always be attached to their hand!

A few tricks to break your child’s habit

Generally, by the age of two or three, children discover a variety of new things, like walking, talking and making new friends, all of which help them get over the desire to suck their thumb or a pacifier. If your child continues to do it beyond that age, it’s usually by force of habit. Here are a few tricks to help change your child’s behavior:

1. Start by trying to change your child’s daytime habits by replacing the thumb or pacifier with a small piece of apple, for example, as a distraction.

2. Once your child has successfully abandoned the daytime habit, you can start working on the night-time habit by telling a bedtime story to ensure that your child doesn’t fall asleep while thumb-sucking.

3. If this doesn’t work after a certain amount of time, avoid reprimanding your child. Take a little break and then try again in a few weeks.

Remember that all you really need to do is replace an unhealthy habit with a healthier one that’s still agreeable to your child. If you’re worried about the development of your child’s teeth, seek the advice of your orthodontist, who can tell you if a consultation is needed or not!

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