Thumb-sucking habits are normal reflexes from birth to three years of age. The majority of children naturally outgrow their thumb-sucking habit between two and four years of age. We aim to encourage halting the habit by age three. However, habits that persist after the age of five or six risk oral complications.
The “palatal crib” appliance usually stops thumb sucking immediately. The crib will then be in place for an additional six months to confirm the discontinuation of the habit. The crib is crafted and cemented behind the teeth, making it less visible. Preventing the thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth reduces gratification, and breaks the habit very quickly.
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Pacifiers are not a better alternative to thumb-sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs and sometimes have worse oral complications.
Here are a few suggestions to help stop the habits:
- Children may suck their thumbs when they feel insecure. Work on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking habit. Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
- Reward children when they refrain from sucking. Use a Sticker Chart on a calendar.
- Give verbal praise to the child. Encouragement from siblings helps tremendously.
- If the habit is accompanied by a favored stuffed animal or “blankie,” then set a date to quit along with selling the “blankie” can help reinforce halting the habit.
- Dr. Richards can encourage children to stop the habit and explain what could happen if they continue.
- Mavala Stop is a bitter nail polish that serves as a reminder.
- If these modalities fail, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. A Tguard may also be helpful.