Should Children Be Discouraged from Sucking Their Thumbs?

child_sucking_thumbAn interesting study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who bite their nails and suck their thumbs are less likely to develop certain allergies, including those to cats, dogs, grass and house dust mites.

The researchers studied the habits of 1,000 children in New Zealand and found that 31 percent were frequent nail biters or thumb suckers. They then did skin prick allergy tests on the subjects when they were 13 and 32 years old, and they found that he number of children showing sensitivities toward allergens was lower among those who had sucked their thumbs or bitten their nails. — about 38 percent compared to 49 percent.

But this doesn’t mean that parents should encourage their children to suck their thumbs!

Thumb sucking (or pacifier sucking) is a natural reflex for children, and it makes them feel secure and happy. The unfortunate side effect is that after permanent teeth come in, intense thumb sucking  can affect the alignment of the teeth.

Children should stop sucking their thumb (or pacifier) between the ages of 2 and 4, when the permanent teeth are ready to erupt. Here are some ways you can encourage your child to stop:

  • Give praise for not sucking his or her thumb.
  • Find other ways to calm your child’s anxiety or soothe him or her.
  • For older children, involve them in choosing a method to help them stop.
  • Ask your dentist to talk to your child about what could happen to the teeth if thumb sucking continues. Ask the dentist to offer encouragement to stop.
  • If he or she has trouble stopping, putting a band-aid on the thumb or a sock on the hand at night may be a reminder about the habit and why stopping is a good idea.

If you need help with your child’s thumb sucking habit, please contact Enlighten Dental Care for a consultation. There are dental and orthodontic devices that can disrupt the experience of sucking the thumb.

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