Thumb Sucking And Pacifier Use

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Thumb Sucking And Pacifier Use

Like many parents, you may be concerned  about your child’s thumb sucking, finger sucking  or pacifier use. You may wonder if it is harmful,  at what age it should stop or what could happen  if your child does not stop.

You can rest assured that sucking is one of an  infant’s natural reflexes. They begin to suck on  their thumbs or other fingers while they are in  the womb. Infants and young children may suck  on thumbs, other fingers, pacifiers or other  objects. It makes them feel secure and happy,  and it helps them learn about their world. Placing a thumb or another finger in the mouth  provides some children with a sense of security  during difficult periods, such as when they are  separated from their parents, surrounded by  strangers or in an unfamiliar environment. Since  thumb sucking is relaxing, it also may help  induce sleep. For this reason, young children  may suck their thumbs in the evening or at other  times when they are tired.

Prolonged thumb sucking may cause problems  with the proper growth of the mouth and the  alignment of teeth. It also can cause changes in  the roof of the mouth.

Children who rest their thumbs passively in their  mouths are less likely to experience diffi- culty  than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.  When an active thumb sucker removes his or  her thumb from the mouth, a popping sound  often is heard. Some aggressive thumb suckers  may cause problems with their primary (baby)  teeth.



Good To Know

Pacifiers can affect the teeth in essentially the  same way as does sucking on fingers and thumbs. However, pacifier use often is an easier  habit to break. If you offer an infant a pacifier,  use a clean one. Never dip a pacifier in sugar,  honey or other sweeteners before giving it to an  infant.  Most children stop sucking their thumbs or other  fingers on their own between the ages of 2 and  4 years. The behavior lessens gradually during  this period, as children spend more of their  waking hours exploring their surroundings. Peer  pressure also causes many school-aged children to stop placing their fingers in their mouths. If a child does not stop on his or her own, parents should discourage the habit after age 4  years. However, excessive pressure to stop can  do more harm than good. 
Instead of scolding the child for thumb sucking, offer praise for not doing so. ∙ Children often suck their fingers when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and comfort the child. ∙ Reward the child when he or she avoids thumb sucking during a difficult period, such as being separated from family members. The dentist also can encourage the child to stop sucking his or her thumb and explain what could happen to the teeth if it continues. If these approaches do not work, remind your child of the habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock over the hand at night. If the thumb sucking persists, talk to your child’s den tist or pediatrician. He or she can prescribe a mouth appliance or a medication with which to coat the thumb to prevent the thumb sucking.

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