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Thumb-Sucking: Allow it or Not?
For many parents, the moment their infant children learn to soothe themselves via thumb-sucking marks a day of rejoicing. Young children are much more likely to fall asleep on their own and comfort themselves when crying once they take up sucking on their thumb or finger(s) of choice.
The celebration, however, is often tainted by an equal concern of their son or daughter developing dental issues as a result of the thumb-sucking. Large sums of money loom in parents’ minds as they consider the costs and benefits of allowing their young children to suck their thumb or not.
As it turns out, very little thumb-sucking poses any real, long-term dental threat.
While it’s true that it causes a child’s teeth to shift, a condition called malocclusion, or a deforming of the roof of the mouth, is almost always corrected naturally so long as the child stops by the time he or she is approximately four years old.
In the cases when children continue to suck their thumb with a fair degree of intensity after into their fifth year, long-term dental problems are far more likely to occur, as are speech impediments.
Encouraging a child to stop can be a difficult process, especially when the child does not want to. In this case, positive reinforcement combined with the application of safe but bitter-tasting products designed to end thumb-sucking usually proves to be the most effective route.
In some rare cases, thumb-sucking is a demonstration of an anxiety disorder. This can result after a child experiences a traumatic event, although some are simply born with a higher degree of anxiety. In either case, parents should consult a psychologist.
These anomalies aside, however, thumb-sucking at an early age is normal and ultimately self-corrective. In other words, parents can stop calculating the costs of braces in 12 years and settle in for a quiet, uninterrupted night’s sleep.