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Thumb Sucking

Definition
Thumb-sucking is a behavior--not a disorder. Child places his finger or thumb, behind the teeth, in contact with roof of the mouth and sucks with lips and teeth tightly closed.

Sex or Age Most Affected
Children of both sexes up to age 12, but most common in young children.

Signs & Symptoms
Protruding front teeth. Thumb-sucking may put enough pressure on front teeth to move them forward eventually.

Causes
Some psychiatrists believe thumb-sucking provides a mother substitute and is caused by a need to cling to the mother. Others believe it is an instinctive behavior that becomes habitual. Still other feel this is a manifestation of insecurity as most children are seen sucking with great pressure and speed when tense.

Risk Increases With
Lack of love and attention during infancy and childhood.

Prevention

  • Provide a loving and secure environment for the child.
  • Provide other comfort mechanisms early in infancy, such as orthodontic pacifiers designed to minimize tooth misalignment.

Other:
Thumb-sucking does not cause serious damage until the permanent teeth begin cutting through gums at age 6 or 7. Most children have outgrown the habit by this age. If not, parents should work with the child to change the habit for the sake of appearance and dental health.

Possible Complications
Unsightly facial appearance without treatment.

Probable Outcome
Protruding front teeth should improve in 6 months to 2 years with dental treatment.

General Measures
For a child over 6 or 7 who sucks the fingers or thumb:

  • Give the child extra attention. Observe if conflicts or anxiety-producing situations provoke sucking. Help the child explore other solutions to stress.
  • If the child decides to try to stop sucking, help the child set goals. Give rewards for ANY progress toward the goal. Reward is not a bribe, but something earned through effort.

Medication
No Medicine usually needed.

Contact Your Doctor

  • Your child wishes to stop and behavior- modification efforts (rewards for progress) have not solved the problem. The dentist may fit a training device in the child's mouth to prevent the thumb from touching the roof of the mouth.
  • The sucking behavior does not diminish in 6 months, despite treatment. Referral for psychological counseling may be necessary at this point.