Thumb Sucking – What Parents Should Know

Thumb sucking is something that many parents have seen, experienced, and dealt with. Some adults still nurture the habit. However, do you know why babies (and some adults) suck their thumbs? What are its negative effects? Is there a way to stop it, or should you just let your child break the habit? Read on to understand this phenomenon better.

Why Babies Develop the Habit of Thumb Sucking

Almost every baby sucks their thumbs at one point in their life. The phenomenon is common and widespread as it is hardwired into babies’ brains. Fetuses as well have long been observed to suck their thumbs in the womb and this is a natural normal part of oral development.

The nature of thumb sucking can be attributed to the fact that babies need to suck when feeding, whether from their mothers’ nipple or feeding bottle. Because of this, sucking is one of the first actions that they learn and develop. Furthermore, it has been found that the act of sucking calms down babies. Because of this, sucking is known to help babies relieve themselves of stress and anxiety.

The Effects of Thumb Sucking

To give you an idea of how common thumb sucking among babies is, here are some statistics:

  • At least 90 per cent of babies such their thumb
  • Around 10 per cent of them will continue to suck their thumb beyond the age of two and three
  • Around five per cent will continue the habit beyond their fourth or fifth birthday

While the number of adults that still suck their thumb is difficult to determine because many adults are not open to admitting that they have the habit, there are many adults who still suck their thumb.

If you’re wondering about the effects of thumb sucking, the fact that it can continue until adulthood can be considered as one of the effects. However, parents should not panic when they see their babies sucking their thumb.

As mentioned earlier, it is a completely natural and common phenomenon. Many parents believe that thumb sucking can lead to deformed teeth, jaws, and mouths. This may or may not happen, and if you are concerned about your child’s teeth, you should seek advice from a dental professional. Most babies will stop sucking their thumb way before any of their permanent teeth come out. Parents should not worry too much about thumb sucking if their kids are aged three or below.

Now, if a child is still sucking their thumb when permanent teeth have already started growing, it is time to intervene. Constant thumb sucking may cause the teeth to move—the upper front teeth can move outward, while the lower front teeth might move inward. The jaw may change in shape, as it is still developing. Prolonged thumb sucking may also affect the development of the palate, which can lead to issues in chewing and swallowing, as well as speaking in some cases. However, take note that these things will not happen to everyone.

Ways to Stop Thumb Sucking

If you think that your child’s thumb-sucking habit is already a concern, you can try a few techniques to try to stop the habit. First, you can try to talk to them and explain the consequences of prolonged thumb sucking. You should also try to understand why they do it—do they often feel anxious?  Do they have poor sleep?  Are they doing it when they are tired or bored?  These triggers might just hold the key to helping your child find alternate behaviours to help quash their thumb sucking habit.

And if all else fails, we’re a clinic that helps families with thumb and finger sucking children to resolve their habits – get in touch today to see how we can help!


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