The Consequences Of Thumb Sucking In Children

Things that seem fairly banal at first can have unexpected consequences. So it is with thumb sucking, a behaviour that’s found in most primate babies, including humans and lemurs. Why do babies suck their thumbs and what are the consequences of this behaviour? Let’s find out:

Thumb sucking is a behaviour that has its origins in baby reflexes – specifically, in the rooting and sucking reflexes. These reflexes are important in order to ensure the newborn can breastfeed properly. Beyond this age, thumb sucking occurs as something of a habit and young children may suck their thumbs as a way of comforting themselves when they feel stressed.

The problems with thumb sucking occur as the child gets older or if the thumb sucking is particularly aggressive. Generally, you won’t be advised to wean your child off of thumb sucking until after preschool. The main problem with thumb sucking is that it can affect your child’s bite as their permanent teeth develop, causing an improper bite alignment known as malocclusion. Thumb sucking can also push your child’s teeth outward. 

An improper bite can lead to all sorts of problems, from speech challenges like a lisp to difficulties with chewing and breathing. The longer a child sucks their thumb after a certain point, the more likely they are to need orthodontic intervention later on in life. Again, it’s worth mentioning that preschoolers often don’t need to stop sucking their thumbs unless the sucking is particularly aggressive. When your child is developing calluses on their thumb as a result of sucking it, it may be a sign you should wean them off early.

Not all of the consequences of thumb sucking are physical in nature. Kids can be cruel and there can be social pressure on your child to stop sucking their thumb – name-calling, bullying, and other unkind behaviours.

There are a variety of methods for helping your child to stop sucking their thumb. Positive parenting plays an important role: when your child isn’t sucking their thumb, praise them instead of scolding them for when they do. Should you child suck their thumb when they’re anxious, try to find the source of their anxiety and help them through it. Find activities for those who suck their thumbs when they’re bored. In other words, find the mental patterns that are causing the habit and address those patterns instead of the habit itself. 

You might find that using the above methods isn’t working – sometimes, another adult can help you help your child. Visit a well established dentist in Winnipeg and ask them to explain the consequences of thumb sucking to your child.  This can be another positive influence in helping your child to stop sucking their thumb.