Problematic Thumb-Sucking

Is thumb-sucking considered normal?

Thumb-sucking is a normal occurrence among babies and young kids. An innate sucking impulse causes some infants to engage in thumb-sucking during their initial few months following birth, or even while they are in the womb. Babies might additionally suck their fingers, hands or other objects like pacifiers.

What are the reasons behind infant thumb-sucking?

Babies have an innate urge to suck that generally reduces subsequent to six months of age. However, several babies persistently suck their thumbs as a means of soothing themselves. Babies and young kids could become habituated with thumb-sucking when they use it as a means of pacifying themselves during hunger, when they are petrified, edgy, quiet, drowsy or are plain bored.

Majority of infants and toddlers suck their thumbs, however eventually between three and six years majority of them stop by themselves.

Baby thumb suckingWould thumb-sucking lead to any problems?

Long-lasting thumb-sucking might lead to dental problems in the child. Thumb-sucking could lead to improper teeth alignment (malocclusion) or protruding teeth and at times cause malformation of the roof (upper palate). Malocclusion normally self-corrects when thumb-sucking is stopped. However, the more prolonged thumb-sucking persists, the greater is the likelihood of imminent orthodontic treatment being required for correction of any resultant dental problems.

Speech difficulties might also arise like mispronunciation of the letters ‘T’ and ‘D’, lisping and the tongue constantly jutting out while speaking.

When does thumb-sucking become problematic?

Thumb-sucking among infants lesser than four years of age is not considered as a problem. However, those kids above the age of four or five who constantly and with greater intensity suck their thumbs are at increased risk of developing imminent dental or speech problems.

In atypical cases, thumb-sucking observed past the age of five years is associated with an emotional turmoil or some disorder like anxiety. Such children need to be medically examined and subsequent to simplistic treatment measures being followed, thumb-sucking could be halted.

Treating problematic thumb-sucking

Several experts suggest overlooking thumb-sucking among preschoolers and younger aged kids. Majority of young kids stop thumb-sucking on their own.

Thumb-sucking among children requires treatment when:

  • Additionally hair pulling is involved, particularly in-between 1-2 years of age.
  • Persistent thumb-sucking or with heightened intensity even after four to five years of age.
  • Assistance is demanded for halting the behaviour.
  • Speech or dental problems arise due to the outcome of this behaviour.
  • When the child feels self-conscious, or is mocked or ridiculed by others due to this behaviour.

Normally, treatment could be carried out at home with the parents charting out rules and offering means to distract the child. It might be beneficial to curb the frequency and the places where the kid is allowed thumb-sucking and to hide away blankets or other objects that the kid tends to associate with thumb-sucking. Praising and rewarding the child during all the times he does not suck his thumb, might aid in breaking the habit. With the child eventually maturing, by five years of age, he/she might be able to play a more active part in the treatment.

  • Speaking frankly with the child regarding the ill-effects of thumb-sucking.
  • Covering the child’s hands with gloves or wrapping the thumb using a sticky bandage or a piece of cloth. Explaining to the child that the glove, bandage or the piece of cloth is not meant as a means of punishing him/her, but merely a reminder for not to thumb suck.
  • Developing an incentive system like attaching stickers on a diary or otherwise keeping a track of the number of days the kid went without thumb-sucking. Subsequent to a decided-upon number of days passing by without thumb-sucking, having a kind of celebration organised for the kid.
  • Using a special toxin-free, tart-tasting nail coating like ‘Thum’ that could be applied on the finger nails firstly in the morning or prior to bedtime or whenever the child is spotted thumb-sucking proves to be immensely beneficial. This form of treatment has high success rate if coupled with an incentive system.

In case, these treatments are proving unsuccessful, other treatments comprising of behavioural therapy, thumb devices or mouth devices might be employed.

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