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Thumb sucking

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Thumb sucking a natural sucking instinct leads some babies to suck their thumbs during their first few months of life. About 70–80% of infants suck their thumbs.1 Most of them gradually stop on their own between 3–6 years of age.

The habit is often seen when the child is falling asleep, tired, bored, anxious or hungry.

Thumb sucking in children younger than 4 years of age is usually not a problem. However, it becomes a problem at any age when the habit interferes with normal development, social interactions or self-esteem.

The following are the unwanted sequel, which may occur as a consequence of prolonged thumb sucking:

  • Dental—the child’s teeth may become improperly aligned or pushed outward. It may also cause malformation of the roof (upper palate) of the mouth or temporomandibular problems.
  • Digits—a digital hyperextension deformity may occur.
  • Speech—may affect the pronunciation of words with Ts and Ds.
  • Psychological effect —may affect the child’s self-esteem.

In general, an intervention is not required unless the habit is prolonged even after the age of 4 or 5 years.

The following steps may help to stop the persistency of the habit in a child:

  • Talking to the child openly about the effects of thumb sucking.
  • Focusing on correcting the cause of the habit.
  • Developing a reward system on each day that the child does not suck his or her thumb.
  • Use of a nontoxic, bitter-tasting nail coating on the thumb.
  • If occurs during sleep, thumb splints or gloves can be tried.
 
Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: July 13, 2011