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Oman health: Thumb-sucking in children

Lifestyle Saturday 28/January/2017 16:24 PM
By: Times News Service
Oman health: Thumb-sucking in children

Up to one third of children suck their thumb or fingers in the first year of life. Babies have a natural urge to suck on their fingers, hands, lips or items such as pacifiers to soothe themselves when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, quiet, sleepy, or bored. It can start before birth, and can be a deeply ingrained habit. However, by the age of 6 years, only 4 per cent of children are still sucking their thumb, so most children stop by themselves.
Does thumb-sucking cause any problems?
Children who suck their thumbs at age 6 or more are at risk for dental or speech problems. It can cause the teeth to become improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the teeth outward. Speech problems caused by thumb-sucking can include not being able to say Ts and Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.
The severity of the problem caused depends on the child’s growth pattern, the duration of the habit each day and the force or angle of the thumb or finger in the mouth. Possible effects of the habit are:
• Upper front teeth pushed up and forward.
• Lower front teeth pushed down and back.
• Inability to bite on front teeth due to gap between uppers and lowers.
• Lips held apart due to protruding upper teeth.
• Narrowing and distortion of the palate.
• Abnormal swallow, tongue position, or speech.
• Calluses or cracked skin on the sucked thumb.
• Psychological effect of poor appearance.
What to do about thumb-sucking?
Try to wait it out. Pre-empt thumb-sucking with other activities, consider distracting the child with a substitute activity, such as a rubber ball to squeeze or finger puppets to play with. At home, treatment includes parents setting rules and providing distractions. Putting gloves on your child’s hands or wrapping the thumb with an adhesive bandage or a cloth may help remind your child not to suck the thumb. Offering praise, positive attention, and rewards for not thumb-sucking may also help your child break the habit. Don’t shame or punish your child for thumb-sucking. This will only lower your child’s self-esteem. Remember that thumb-sucking usually isn’t a problem in children at preschool age or younger. Most children stop on their own if you give them time. For children who suck in bed, wearing an oversized top with sewn up sleeve ends can deter the habit.
What if my child has not stopped thumb sucking?
Some children who find it difficult to break the habit need the help of an orthodontic appliance that blocks the comfortable positioning of the thumb in the mouth and reminds the child to stop. After the habit is broken, the appliance remains in place for about three months as a reminder to prevent the habit from recurring. It is also an incentive for the child to stop the habit completely as soon as possible, so the appliance can be removed.
In most children, teeth and supporting bone structures begin to move towards their natural position and shape as soon as the habit stops. The dental professional monitors these changes and adjusts the appliance regularly so that it does not impinge on the palate. The key is to notice when and where does sucking occur and try to divert the child’s attention by offering an alternative. Together, you and your child can find solutions that will help to kick the thumb habit.
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Dr Richa Raj is dental surgeon at Pearly White Dental Centre, Al Khuwair. For any queries call at + 968 9705 2624 or mail at [email protected]