If I told you not to try and stop your child from sucking his/her thumb until they were ready, would you be shocked?
Children engage in non-nutritive sucking (pacifiers, thumbs, blankets, etc.) primarily as a comfort. Often, sucking helps them fall asleep more easily. It’s true that non-nutritive sucking can impact growth and alignment of the mouth and teeth. Prolonged sucking creates dental and skeletal changes, including bite problems and defects in the palate that may require orthodontic treatment to reverse. There is also an association between pacifiers and increased acute middle ear infections. These habits do need to be corrected at the right time.
But, the ‘right time’ is a very personal thing, and has everything to do with a child’s own maturity and motivation to change. I’ve seen kids find very creative ways to circumvent even a non-removable dental appliance intended to prevent thumb sucking. More importantly, kids may develop other bad habits—including tantrums and bed-wetting—by trying to break a habit too early. These new addictions may be more psychologically damaging to your child—and harder to stop—than the sucking.
Seeing patients at least twice a year helps a dentist optimally manage a child’s oral development together with their individual growth. The ideal timeframe to wipe out the pacifier is age 2, and thumb sucking should be stopped by the time the first permanent tooth erupts. Dentists working hand-in-hand with parents will be much more successful in breaking sucking habits at the right time, with the right education and motivation.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, where I’ll share some strategies and tools for helping kids ditch the sucking—when they’re ready.