The truth about thumb sucking, dummies and nipple confusion

The truth about thumb sucking, dummies and nipple confusion

Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between two and four years of age. No harm is done to their teeth or jaws until permanent teeth start to erupt, so the only time the continued sucking of dummies or thumbs might cause concern is if it goes on beyond six to eight years of age.
At this time, it may affect the shape of the oral cavity or teeth, causing the upper front teeth to tip toward the lip or not come in properly. Thumbsucking can lead to an open bite and often a high arched palate.
Addressing the problem when the child is ready and willing to give up is more likely to be successful than attacking it head on and forcing your child to stop.

Some tips to encourage your child to stop sucking include:

  • Praise children for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they do.
  • If a child is sucking its thumb when feeling insecure or needing comfort, focus instead on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • If a child is sucking on their thumb because of boredom, try getting the child’s attention with a fun activity.Involve older children in the selection of a means to cease thumb sucking.
  • A paediatric dentist can offer encouragement to a child and explain what may happen to teeth if the sucking is continued.
  • Only if these tips are ineffective, remind the child of the habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock/glove on the hand at night.

If you are concerned that your child’s adult teeth are coming through and none of the above methods have worked, seeing an Orthodontist can help. Removable or fixed appliances to disrupt thumb sucking can prove successful and usually after a month or so of continuous use, children are likely to stop thumb sucking altogether.
In the case of dummies, it is recommended that waiting until breastfeeding is well established, typically around six weeks, before introducing any sort of dummy or pacifier.
Using a dummy may prevent the development of thumb sucking in children but parents should endeavour to avoid prolonged sucking for more than six hours at a time. Dummies should never be dipped in sugary substances such as honey or fruit juices as they can lead to dental decay and erosion of teeth.
In addition, pacifiers should be kept very clean and if holes or cracks develop they can act as a harbor for bacteria which can lead to infections of the mouth.
In what is great news for dummy-using parents everywhere, it has also been found that the use of a dummy is associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
When it comes time to wean your child off his or her dummy, the following tips may be useful:

  • Limit the use of pacifiers to key times in the day like bedtime or when your child is ill.
  • Positive reinforcement through modelling of other children who have grown out of dummies.
  • Use a reward charts with stickers recording everyday completed without the dummy.
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