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Why you should keep your child from sucking their thumb

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Thumbsucking is a common concern for parents. When babies are born they have a natural instinct to suck. This is essential for newborns as they will automatically latch on to a breast or bottle. This need to suck ensures that the baby knows how to get nutrition. Sometimes this sucking desire goes beyond the first six months to a year and can become a drive to thumbsuck.

Thumbsucking is sometimes remedied by using a pacifier. Some parents shake their heads when they see a child using a pacifier past a certain age, while others are just as turned off by those that allow thumbsucking. The concern from pediatricians begins when the child sucks their thumb past age five.

Concerns
Children that suck their thumb past age five has a significant chance of altering they way their permanent teeth are aligned. The teeth will come in with an alignment that accommodates their thumb, leading to an odd shape. This can be corrected by braces, but if the child continues to use their thumb for sucking, even braces can be pushed out of shape. The roof of the mouth can also be affected, changing the shape.

Not only can the teeth be pushed out of shape from the constant suction, tooth decay is another strong possibility. Friction from the suction and thumb rubbing against teeth can eventually wear down enamel and introduce bacteria. This bacteria can have a detrimental effect on teeth and gum health.

Can It Be Stopped?
Thumbsucking can be stopped. There are appliances to help stop the habit, but some can be too hard on children. Binding the elbow so the child can't bend it can leave bruises. Bitter tasting lotions for the thumb can be washed off.

Most doctors agree that the habit can be ignored until about age five. At this age children are more likely to respond to reasoning. They may participate in the effort to break the habit. This is when bitter tasting lotions or liquid can be used as a reminder.

A reward system is worth trying. When your child doesn't suck their thumb, give them a sticker or another treat they can look forward to. Positive reinforcement is better than negative. If you can't seem to find a way to help your child, ask your dentist to talk with him or her. Sometimes a professional can have more impact on children.

Sources:
http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/breaking-thumb-sucking-habit

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thumb-sucking/MY01262

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