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Break the rule of thumb! Thumb Sucking, Is It That Bad?

Thumb-sucking-things-to-consider
ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
ParentingPost Category - ParentingParenting - Post Category - BabyBaby

Worried about your little thumb suckers – or more importantly what the effect may be on their teeth and their health? Dr. Rash, Orthodontist and Dr. Seydalina, Family Medicine Specialist at Euromed Clinic Center Dubai tell us what we need to know.

We’ve all seen pictures of babies sucking their thumbs in the womb – it’s a natural childhood trait and a habit that can be a life-saver for tired parents. Actually, for many parents it is a welcome alternative to a pacifier: Thumbs are always there, they don’t fall on the floor, they aren’t tied to children’s clothing by strings that can choke them or get caught on things, and they are under a child’s own control.

But at what point does it cease to be a harmless habit and become a health issue? For the majority of children, they will stop thumb sucking by the age of five but there will be a determined minority who will persist and if they fail to stop by the time their adult teeth come through around the age of seven, there could be some long-lasting negative impacts.

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Classic features seen in thumb suckers are top front teeth that stick out, lower front teeth that are pushed in, an anterior open bite (where the upper and lower front teeth do not meet) and a narrow upper arch resulting in a cross-bite.  Indeed, prolonged thumb sucking could lead to a child needing corrective treatment – such as wearing a brace or having teeth removed – later on.  It can also lead to speech problems such as lisping and imprecise pronunciation.

There is also the hygiene issue to consider too. Tummy bugs and cold viruses are more easily picked up when a dirty thumb which is rammed into the mouth at every opportunity, and any cuts on the skin on and around the thumb are slower to heal and can be prone to infection.

So, how do you get them to stop? Nagging and threats are rarely effective. Gently asking them not to do it and giving praise and encouragement at any attempts to change their behaviour may work better. But unless a child actively wants to give up thumb sucking and just needs help breaking the habit – there is little a parent can do or say to stop them.

For parents who have tried reward charts, foul-tasting nail paint, chili, mustard, covering the thumb with plasters without success, thankfully you can seek professional help to curb the babyish habit.

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For committed thumb suckers for whom the gentle approach fails to work, orthodontists and doctors can recommend devices such as a plastic guard which fits over the thumb and is secured around the wrist with an adjustable strap. This works by breaking the seal around the thumb which denies any thumb-sucking pleasure. If a thumb guard fails to do the trick, for older children (aged around 9 or 10) who still haven’t been able to give up, a ‘habit breaker’ can be fitted. This is an orthodontic device that sits on the roof of the mouth and interferes with the actual sucking of the thumb.

But as with everything, if you’re worried about it then seek advice. Euromed Clinic is offering free consults on a Saturday with both the resident orthodontist, Dr. Rasha and the family medicine specialist, Dr. Sevdalina to advise parents how to help stop their children thumb-sucking and also to outline the orthodontic benefits of stopping the habit.

Visit euromedclinicdubai.com or call 00971 4 394 5422 for further information.

Feature image by Robert Goddard from Flickr, Image #2 by Himanshu Singh Gujar from Unplash, Image #3 by Francine from Flickr.

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