Sucking is a normal, instinctive behavior in infants and is essential to survival. It is through the natural sucking action that infants receive a great deal of pleasure with their early feeding experiences beginning with breast or bottle feeding. This natural and healthy sucking urge may generalize to other objects within their environment. Babies learn that they can transfer this sucking action to the thumb, finger or blanket and receive those same positive and pleasurable conditioned sensations. Children may begin thumb/finger sucking habits by imitating the sucking behavior of a sibling or other children. As time passes, children participate in the thumb/finger sucking habit unconsciously. Some cues that promote sucking habits are fatigue, boredom, excitement, hunger, fear, and stress.
Many children experience pleasure from these habits for the first few years of life and then stop them on their own volition. To call undue attention to these habits at this early age may do more harm than good. However, when children continue these habits beyond early childhood, they may risk significant and often preventable dental, speech, learning and emotional problems.
It is important to understand that the longer the thumb/finger sucking habits persist the more difficult it is to eliminate the sucking activity because the strength of the emotional dependency increases with time. The more intense (strength of sucking), the more frequent (how often during the day), and the longer the duration (how long is the sucking act during each occurrence?) of the child’s sucking habit, the more likely it is to affect the child’s developing oral structures and oral functional patterns.
Treatment to eliminate the habit is best initiated around the age of 4 or 5 depending on the child’s cognitive development. Another consideration includes picking a time to eliminate the habit when the child and parents are not experiencing excessive stress or change in their lives such as the arrival of a new sibling, a family move or starting a new school.
If you answer “yes” to more than one of the questions below the sucking habit may be of concern and it may be time to seek intervention:
• Do the teeth appear to be affected such as protruding front teeth, an anterior open bite (when asked to bite teeth together there is an opening between the upper/lower teeth), or an anterior or posterior crossbite (with teeth together one or more of the top teeth are positioned on the inside rather than the outside of the lower dental arch)?
• Is there a narrow, high arched roof of mouth (palate)?
• Does the sucking habit take place during the day as well as at bedtime?
• Does the sucking habit take place in two or more settings, such as home and school, or in front of others outside of the immediate family?
• Has your child’s teacher expressed concern about sucking in the classroom?
• Does your child receive negative reactions from peers, and family members because of the sucking habit?
• Is your child’s speech difficult to understand?
• Does your child have calluses, infected fingernails, or crooked fingers?
• Does your child want to stop the habit?
We can help your child stop their oral habits. A Certified Orofacial Myologist is skilled in helping bring such habits under control in a very positive, nonthreatening and uninvasive way without punitive appliances that a dentist or orthodontist may recommend. The positive behavioral modification program is designed to help children discontinue their thumb/finger sucking habits quickly and without coercion.
We are skilled at motivating the patient to WANT to bring their sucking habits under control. The termination of a sucking habit can become a very positive and gratifying experience. In many cases structural components may be minimized by early cessation of these habits such as improvement in their protrusive teeth or open bites.
Call us or make an appointment today. The longer you wait, the harder ay habit is to break. If you need more information, visit our Resources page, and take a look at the professional articles around habit elimination and how difficult it is the older a child gets.