Persistent thumb sucking in older children may be a symptom of emotional distress. He or she may be plagued by feelings of sadness or anxiety, and thumb sucking may continue to be a form of self comfort. If this sounds like your child, insisting that he or she stop thumb sucking will only make matters worse. Instead, try to discover the source of your child's sadness or anxiety.
Parents often begin to worry about a child if he or she continues thumb sucking past age four or five. While it's perfectly normal to be concerned that the child's habit reflects poorly on your parenting skills, it's counterproductive to let your son or daughter know how upset you are or use wrongheaded measures to make the child stop thumb sucking. But what are the potential consequences if your child does not quit by this age, as most do?
According to the American Dental Association, thumb sucking can lead to problems if it persists after permanent teeth have come in. The constant sucking can cause misalignment of teeth and affect the proper growth of the mouth. The severity of the problem seems to depend on a child's individual sucking style: Kids who simply rest their thumbs on their tongues tend to have fewer problems than children who suck vigorously.
As a child reaches school age, thumb sucking could pose social problems. In one study, first-graders were shown photos of two seven-year-old kids. In one set of photos, the children were sucking their thumbs, in the second set they were not. The first-graders rated children in the thumb-sucking pose as less intelligent, happy, attractive, and desirable as friends. Psychologists say thumb suckers are frequent targets of teasing.
Other potential problems for children who suck their thumbs chronically include infections of the thumbnail, thumb malformation, and the possibility of poisoning (if a child touches a toxic substance before inserting a thumb in the mouth).
There are a variety of dental devices that can be used to help a child stop thumb sucking, but only use one if the child accepts it. Forcing a child to use such a device can damage a child's psyche, which can be harder to fix than misaligned teeth.
Thumbing sucking can be a vexing problem for parents. Understanding the origins, as well as a strategy for breaking your child of the habit, can give you peace of mind.
For more information about thumb sucking and how to combat it, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- If growing teeth are causing your child pain, read our Home Remedies for Teething.
- If breast feeding hurts, check out our Home Remedies for Breast Feeding Discomfort.
- To understand the science of breast feeding, go to How Breast Feeding Works.
- For tips on treating an infant, read How to Care for a Newborn.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.