Ways To Stop Your Children Sucking Their Thumb

Keep giving positive encouragement and avoid nagging.

23/09/2016 14:59 | Updated 23 September 2016

One in every eight children in the UK (aged 7 to 11) has a thumb sucking habit, according to BOS statistics.

So if you are a parent trying to stop your child, you’re not alone. 

Why do children suck their thumb?

The British Orthodontic Society [BOS] says: “Thumb and finger sucking is one of the most common habits developed during childhood.”

There are two reasons why your child might suck their thumb. The first is that it is a comforting and calming practice that brings them security. The second reason is just that it is a learned habit. 

Thumb sucking can begin as young as three-months-old (having originally started in the womb) but can persist for years.

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What age should my child stop thumb sucking?

The NHS says you should avoid using dummies once your child reaches 12-months-old, but many children go on to suck their thumb until much later. 

Experts at the BOS say that if a sucking habit stops by the age of 7 then the teeth can often correct themselves with normal growth.

However: “If the habit continues beyond the age of 7, then the position of the adult teeth can be permanently affected and self-correction is less likely to occur.”

Why is it bad for my child to suck their thumb?

In general dentists and doctors are worried about two things when it comes to your child sucking their thumb.

The first concern is that children will transfer germs directly to their mouths from their hands. 

Doctor Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told The Huffington Post UK: “The first point is less of a concern as a degree of exposure to dirt and germs help to build immunity, although it does depend on the type of germs to which the child is exposed.

“Unfortunately, as hand hygiene is not the number one priority for children of thumb sucking age, there is a risk that your child could become ill through the transference of certain germs directly to the stomach via the mouth.”

The second concern are the longer-lasting limitations on development that thumb sucking can have.

Webberley said: “With the second point, dentists will worry about the growth and placement of the teeth and also the development of the growing upper and lower jaws. Whereas doctors have concerns about the development of speech and language, as it is well-known that speech is limited while sucking devices are in place, including thumbs.” 

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Are there any benefits to thumb sucking? 

“There are lots of benefits to thumb sucking including the fact that it is a nice, natural way to soothe a child without the need for plastic pacifiers,” says Dr. Webberley.

Are dummies as damaging as thumb sucking?

The NHS advises that both dummies and thumb sucking “encourage an open bite” (when teeth move to make space for either object). 

But a dummy habit is easier to stop, according to the BOS, and those who are given a dummy at a young age are far less likely to suck their digits. 

How can I stop my child sucking their thumb?

Dr. Webberley said: “Stopping your child sucking their thumb can be tricky but it is always worth remembering that even small reductions [in the amount they thumb suck] can help.

If you are trying to stop your child, you should: 

Encourage:  “Star charts and reward systems for good behaviour are always a nice positive way of reinforcing the behaviour that you want from your child. Of course, this works well during the day but can be more tricky at night, when your child is alone.”

Praise: Keep giving positive encouragement and avoid nagging.

Physical Barriers: “You can use natural arm splints which can stop the child from bending that arm during the night, or you can use gloves or tape over the thumb to stop the child from sucking”, says Dr. Webberley. 

None of this works, what can I do now? 

Sometimes it is necessary to go even further and use dental devices which are fixed to the inside of the mouth to stop the satisfaction from sucking but this would be a rare necessity.

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