How to Determine if Thumb-sucking is a Problem

Parents often wonder if their kids’ thumb-sucking is a big deal. The short answer is that it really depends. The long answer is that we have to understand all aspects of thumb-sucking and what’s going on in their lives.  

Thumb-sucking, or non-nutritive sucking habits, is a natural part of a child’s development. In fact, it’s estimated that 85-90% of kids suck their thumb or fingers at some point in their lives.

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The problem with thumb-sucking is that it can lead to an anterior open bite. This happens when the top and bottom front teeth don’t touch. It creates a gap, which impacts a child’s ability to swallow. In the worst cases, this can lead to feeding issues.

We look at the following aspects of thumb-sucking to determine if it is problematic and if it needs to be corrected:

ASPECTS OF THUMB-SUCKING IN KIDS

1. Age

How old is your child? Most children will stop sucking their thumbs around age 3 or 4. The closer they get to four years old, the changes to the jaw won’t correct itself. Whereas, if a child stops sucking her thumb at age two, the jaw will be more likely to correct itself.

Most children will stop when they get into preschool and kindergarten and become aware of the social ramifications. Depending upon the frequency, duration, and intensity of the thumb-sucking, they may need treatment to correct the damage if they don’t stop until they are school age. The goal should be to try to get them to stop sucking their thumbs before their grown-up teeth come in.

2. Frequency

How often does your child suck his thumb? Is his thumb always in his mouth? Or is he only doing it at nap and bedtime? The more often he does it, the more likely he is to do damage to his bite.

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