As a parent, you may be concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, finger sucking or the dependence on pacifier use.
Although it provides the child with a sense of security, relaxing them during difficult periods and inducing sleep, the habit may cause changes in the roof of the mouth, said Dr Balasubramaniam R, dentist, Bala Dental Surgery.
He explained that thumb sucking and sucking on pacifiers causes the teeth to proclinate outwards with a disarrangement of teeth as well as cause slight deformation of the bone which is arched out.
“This of course depends on the degree of sucking, how long they have been doing it and how frequent,” he said.
The effect can be long term, Bala said, even after the baby tooth have dropped off, as it is the growing age where the maxilla (upper jaw) and the mandible (lower jaw) starts developing and growing.
“If the habit persist past the age of three, it can cause bite problems to arise. Contrary to a normal bite where the upper teeth grows to overlap the lower teeth, thumb-suckers teeth don’t overlap when a child bites together. This is referred to as an open bite, where there is an open space between the upper and lower teeth,” he said.
Nevertheless, children who rest their thumbs passively in the mouths are less likely to experience difficulty.
Breaking the habit
Bala advises parents to intervene after the child is three years old as the habit should have gradually lessened by this period as children spend more time exploring their surroundings.
“Peer pressure can also cause children at the nursery to stop placing his or her fingers in the mouth,” he said.
For parents who are yet to find the solution, Bala advises them not to be forceful in their approach as this can cause more harm than good.
He recommends parents to offer praise when a child does not thumb suck instead of scolding the child, focus on the cause of insecurity and comfort the child and lastly when the child is separated from a family member – reward the child when he or she avoids thumb sucking.
If all fails, subtly remind your child to put a sock over the hand at night. This might slowly but gradually deter the child from thumb sucking.
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