Thumb Sucking and Teething: Should Parents be Concerned?
by Robin OBrien
Thumb sucking in very early babies can be seen as an adorable habit
by many parents. However, as toddlers begin to teething, many parents are
concerned that habitual thumb sucking can damage emerging teeth or even
developing jaw structure. Is this something to worry about? Why do babies
During an ultra sound scan it's not unusual for excited parents to see
their soon-to-be-born baby sucking its thumb. It's as though parents know
instinctively that it is normal and healthy for babies to suck their tiny
thumbs - even before they are born. However, the thrill of seeing their
young baby suck its thumb can often turn to anxiety in the months and years
All children suck their thumb at some stage. But why do young children
suck their thumb? It would appear that the most common time for sucking
is when children are tired, bored, or in need of comfort. There is widespread
belief amongst child specialists that sucking is a born instinct; an automatic
habit borne out of the necessity for breastfeeding. Some studies have shown
that babies who had trouble early on in latching on to their mother's breast,
tended to suck their thumb more than those who latched on without problems.
Also, it has been observed that babies who are fed every three hours do
not seem to suck their thumbs as avidly as those who are fed every four
hours. Babies who are bottle fed are also more likely to suck their thumb
rather than babies who are breastfed. This is probably because breastfeeding
usually satisfies the baby's need to suck. It is the baby who decides when
she is ready to let go of the nipple. The mother cannot tell when her breasts
are empty. Bottle fed babies tend to finish feeding quicker than breastfeeding
babies and this may exacerbate sucking - as the baby grow stronger and
the nipple holes gradually become wider. This can be alleviated somewhat
by increasing the vacuum in the bottle by regularly replacing nipples.
Are parents to blame? It would seem so. Recent Japanese research involving
1,131 pairs of twins found that there was a strong genetic influence in
finger-sucking behavior in 66 per cent of male twins and 50 per cent of
female twins and in nail-biting behavior in 50 per cent of both male and
female twins. So, were you a thumb sucker?
Is thumb sucking harmful? The American Dental Association says that
thumb sucking does not cause permanent problems with the teeth or jaw line
unless it is continued beyond 4 to 5 years of age. In teething babies,
thumb sucking doesn't cause tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria,
not sucking. Sucking a thumb does not cause misalignment of milk teeth
if the baby stops before 4 to 5 years of age. Any misalignment at this
stage - up to the age of about 6 - is temporary as it affects only the
milk teeth, and not the secondary.
Most babies will stop thumb sucking all by themselves. Some will stop
at an early age, whilst others are much later. Many parents are concerned
that thumb sucking at a late age is a sign of emotional immaturity or lack
of self-confidence. Studies have showed that this is not the case; only
when parents made it an issue, was the child affected emotionally or psychologically.
Constantly pulling your child's thumb out of her mouth is not the best
way of stopping her sucking. This approach can leave your baby feeling
confused and in need of support - her thumb! Instead, you should try to
create an environment where she chooses to stop on her own. You can weaken
the thumb-sucking habit by distracting her when you notice her thumb in
her mouth. Get her involved in something that uses both hands. You can
also buy commercial products that you can paint on her thumbs. They are
harmless but have an unpleasant taste. Another tactic is to use peer pressure
and others outside of the immediate family. Children want to grow up; being
in the company of others who don't suck their thumb can be a powerful incentive
to stop. Lastly, don't worry. Children pick up parents' stress very easily.
If you make her feel stressful then she will continue to suck.
Don't worry too much about your child's habit of sucking her thumb.
All children do it at some stage of their life and all children stop it
at some stage of their life. All too soon, her habit will seem like a long
and faded memory.
About the Author
Robin O'Brien is founder of a website dedicated to baby teething. There,
you can learn everything from teething symptoms to teething remedies