Thumb Sucking: A Common Bad Habit

Thumb/finger sucking is a very common trait amongst young children. Ultrasound scans reveal that thumb sucking starts in the womb 15 weeks after conception. As a child develops the habit, it becomes associated with self-soothing behavior. Since thumb sucking is not a purely instinctive action, it might last longer in some kids than others. Although it is not considered a major problematic habit by many, it may cause some issues and problems if the habit persists. 

Finger sucking may speed up the growth of the upper jaw, slow down the growth of the lower jaw, and may cause misalignment of teeth. In addition, constant pressure on the roof of the mouth may cause a high narrow palate, early loss of baby teeth, abnormal swallowing patterns, improper tongue rest position and speech problems. It is recommended to break the habit by ages 5-6, before permanent (adult) teeth start erupting. Contrary to an old wive’s tale, breaking the habit of finger sucking is not shown to cause any emotional trauma.

There are a few methods of breaking this habit; Some methods are more effective than others. It has been proven that positive reinforcement (rewarding desired behavior) is 90% more successful than using negative reinforcement to reduce fingersucking. Additionally, positive reinforcement aids with establishing a healthy self-esteem, gives a sense of accomplishment and a huge self-confidence boost. There are other long-term benefits that children will enjoy from breaking the habit such as improved facial aesthetics, clear speech and better oral health. 

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