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  • I'm Worried About My Child's Thumb-sucking Habit. Is It Time To Intervene?

    Thumb-sucking is a habit kids pick up to soothe or calm themselves.
    by Kate Borbon .
I'm Worried About My Child's Thumb-sucking Habit. Is It Time To Intervene?
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  • Toddlers pick up all sorts of habits that can cause their parents to worry, and an example of these is thumb-sucking. If you’re worried about how your child’s thumb-sucking habit, here’s everything you need to know.

    In a 2018 SmartParenting.com.ph article, dentist Dr. Edwin Martin Cabusas explains that it is normal for kids in the toddler and preschooler stages to suck their thumbs or bite their nails. “These are harmless ways of soothing themselves and releasing tension,” he says.

    He adds that there’s no reason for parents to worry about their toddler’s thumb-sucking since at this age, “Their mouths are still pliable, and their teeth are not yet permanent.”

    Mayo Clinic says that babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes that can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers in their mouths (even inside the womb), and that thumb-sucking can also help kids feel more secure.

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    The good news is that children usually lose their thumb-sucking habit on their own. “They will learn to lose these habits at their own pace,” Dr. Cabusas says. In an article for BabyCenter, Suzanne Dixon, MD, MPH also writes that kids will eventually stop sucking their thumbs once they discover other ways to calm and comfort themselves.

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    When is it time to intervene? “By age 6, your child will start growing permanent teeth. Sustained thumb sucking at this age may push their newly erupted front teeth forward. In this case, you will most likely have to save up for a meeting with an orthodontist,” Dr. Cabusas says.

    Mayo Clinic writes that thumb-sucking once a child’s permanent teeth start coming in can affect the roof of her mouth or how her teeth line up. Note that the risk of dental issues your child might experience due to thumb-sucking is related to how often, how long, and how intensely she sucks her thumb.

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    If you feel it is time to get your child to drop her thumb-sucking habit (or if you just want to prevent it from becoming an issue), Dr. Cabusas advises giving her calm and gentle reminders every time she puts her thumb in her mouth.

    Mayo Clinic also recommends using positive reinforcement (e.g., offering a small reward when she doesn’t thumb-suck or setting attainable goals, like no thumb-sucking an hour before bedtime) and identifying what triggers your child’s thumb-sucking habit and offering other ways to comfort her when those situations arise.

    Finally, paying no attention to your child’s thumb-sucking can be enough to get her to drop the habit. Just remember not to pressure her to do so. “Openly pressuring your child to stop can motivate her to suck her thumb even more,” says Dr. Dixon.

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