Approximately 80 percent of babies and toddlers suck their thumb at some point during their development. In fact, many babies discover their thumb and start sucking it before they even leave the womb. So if your child sucks their thumb, they are completely normal. However, thumb sucking can cause some potentially long-term problems, such as malocclusion or an abnormal alignment of the teeth. It can also change the shape of the roof of your child's mouth. For this reason, thumb sucking is discouraged by most dental professionals. If your child is a thumb sucker, here's how to deal with it throughout their development.
Up to Two Years of Age
If your child is under the age of two, you don't really have to worry about thumb sucking too much. It's actually encouraged as a self-soothing activity for young children. However, you might want to think about encouraging your child to use a pacifier instead of their thumb. While pacifiers cause the same issues that thumb sucking does if it is done past a certain age, it is an easier habit to break, according to the American Dental Association.
Two to Four Years of Age
Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own between the ages of two to four. If your child shows no signs of giving up or if they are a particularly vigorous sucker, you may need to discourage the activity at this point to prevent damage to permanent teeth. You can do so by distracting them with other activities or by implementing a reward system. For example, you can reward your child with an activity they like, perhaps feeding the fish if you have an aquarium, on days that they don't suck their thumb.
Six Years of Age and Older
Once your child gets to be about five to six years of age, they can do some real, permanent damage if they are still sucking their thumb. For this reason, you might want to have a talk with your child's dentist. If your child's habit is impacting the growth of their permanent teeth, your dentist may recommend a dental device that your child can wear at night, which will make thumb sucking impossible.
For most kids who give up the habit late, peer pressure from other children is what ultimately stops them from sucking their thumb. If they are self conscious about their habit, look for positive ways that you can help them stop the habit. Avoid negative reinforcement, as it can increase stress and make the habit worse.
For more information, contact some children's dental care specialists at http://www.childrensdent.com.