Thumb Sucking Habit and It’s Consequences

Thumb sucking habit is very common with toddlers and children up to 5 years of age. Children in their first year of birth are often seeing sucking their thumb or other fingers. As the child grows up, the habit of sucking on a thumb slowly reduces and eventually disappears. But, the signs to be watched for are, if the thumb sucking continues beyond the age of five. It is said that thumb sucking is comforting and calming to the child.

What are the consequences of thumb sucking beyond the normal age?

  • The most obvious consequence of continued thumb sucking is an abnormal and improper bite.
  • In order to make space for lodging the thumb between the upper and lower front teeth, there is a flaring of teeth as well as an open bite condition.

  • Due to the flaring and open bite, the child may develop a lisp.
  • Due to the constant sucking action, the palate and the teeth in the upper arch tend to become narrow and the positions of teeth are altered from the normal.
  • The upper and lower lips are not spared either. They are often cracked and dry and if not taken care of, can lead to bleeding from the lips as well.
  • The thumb sucking can also lead to ingesting germs that are often seen resting in the finger nails of the child. This can make the child sick.
  • The thumb or thumbs are often swollen and red due to the constant forces on them.

How to control or prevent the habit from progressing?

Till the age of 5 years, it is normal for a child to suck their thumb. But, beyond that, as parents, you need to intervene.

  • The main reason a child could be sucking his/ her thumb could be because of something troubling them. Trying to find the cause and thus eliminating it could lead to cessation of the habit.
  • Speaking with the child and explaining about the thumb sucking habit and its effects is an effective way to build trust in the child and can lead to the child stopping the habit.
  • Distracting the child- There could be certain times when your child is more likely to suck his/her thumb. Trying to distract the child at those times is a good way to eliminate the habit without the knowledge of the child.

  • Aversive conditioning- This is another therapy where homemade remedies such as asafoetida are used. Sprinkle some asafoetida on the thumb of your child. When the child puts it in his/her mouth, the bitter taste of the spice will condition the child’s mind to stop sucking their thumb for fear of the bitter taste.
  • Orthodontic intervention- The most common orthodontic device used to control thumb sucking is a ‘crib’. This includes spikes of wire that are attached to a plate in the child’s mouth. These wire spikes do not let the thumb from entering the mouth leading to gradual reduction in the habit.

Observe your child’s habits and intervene at the right time.

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