It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it!
Babies are born with a very strong instinct to suck, which is often evident even in the womb. Of course, this is necessary for successful feeding and there are distinctive actions that are associated with this need such as a rooting (search for breast) reflex, turning the head, sticking out their tongues, hand to mouth reflex, and fussing. This natural behaviour in babies can lead parents to think that their baby is hungry or not getting enough to eat.
These actions ensure a baby’s survival, and although the sucking action can be a complicated task at first, with practice, it usually becomes a skill that they master well. It’s actually the hand/finger to mouth instinct that, if it turns from a reflexive to a soothing action, should be monitored so that it doesn’t turn into a behavioural habit.
Depending on which “expert” you read, this type of self-soothing can be a calming strategy, a sign of a deeper rooted emotional issue or an early addiction. Addiction seems to be a rather harsh assessment of a natural, self-preservation action, but nonetheless, it is a habit that can be physically destructive to the developing mouth, jaws and teeth and this is what dentists are concerned with. What may start out as a good night sleep for both children and parents and the subject of many “cute” Kodak moments (over 14,000 public posts on Instagram) can turn into a habit-breaking nightmare.
“If thumb sucking persists, it can drastically change the developmental pattern of the teeth and jaws
causing open bite, protrusion and misalignment.”
We see the after affects of thumb sucking and finding the best suited, habit-correcting solution for your child requires patience and determination from everyone concerned. Many parents, who were initially told that this habit will correct itself naturally before their child enters kindergarten, will be the first to say that they wished they had taken measures to stop it earlier. Most agree that, if they could turn back time, they would have helped their child find another self-coping alternative rather than allow the thumb sucking to become a comfortable or entertaining habit.
There are a variety of habit-correcting appliances on the market that can be made by your dentist or, alternatively, there are products that are placed over the hand/fingers. All are designed to make it more difficult for your child to enjoy this habit and nip it in the bud before any orthodontic or speech problems develop.
All children are different and only you know your child best. Your dentist will help you explore the options available and help you choose one. Certainly, the more entrenched the habit is, the more difficult it may be to correct. Sometimes, it takes more than one method to find the one that works best for you and your child.
Tips to Help Your Child:
1. Begin the conversation – Help them to decide to quit by speaking with them about their habit and understand it’s harmful affects. Discuss germs, dental growth, speech problems, maturity, show them pictures and online videos, etc. Stay positive so that they can visualize the healthy outcome.
2. Plant the seeds of success – Words are your best ally. Use positive motivational phrases to inspire and empower them.
3. Reward – Rewards are incentives that help motivate and compliment their efforts. It could be smaller daily rewards as well as larger ones at key milestones that you have mutually agreed upon. It will not only add encouragement, but give them something to look forward to.
4. Progress Charts – Oftentimes, we have to break up our undertaking into a series of smaller goals. Have your child make up a chart with stickers to keep track of their progress and setbacks. Provide them with a reward every time they reach a pre-arranged goal. Understanding that this is a work in progress helps them top appreciate that anything that is worth having is worth working for.
5. Replace Habit – Help your child choose a healthy alternative to thumb sucking for self-soothing. It could be a soft, cuddly toy/blanket, an age-appropriate meditative exercise, or just some extra hugs and cuddles.
6. Identify – Knowing when and where your child enjoys the habit can help you be more effective in your approaches to curb the habit and help you substitute distractions or find creative solutions. Point out to your child when the habit is occurring so that they will learn to become self-aware and begin to recognise it on their own.
We understand. More often than not, the power struggle between parent and child becomes very real when the child is not a willing participant in breaking this habit. Finding the right balance of support and guidance without scolding can try even the most patient parent.
If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking or any other dental issue, we are just a phone call away at (905) 5SMILES. We can help you find a solution even if it’s just having a caring conversation with your child to reinforce your efforts at home.
Yours in Better Dental Health,
The Your Smile Dental Care team