Wise Aunt Juniper,
After introducing my (days away from being 2) son to the dentist this morning, we had a gentle telling off for letting him suck his thumb. Bearing in mind he has never used a dummy (because he found his thumb at 8 weeks old) and clearly gains a lot of comfort from it, does anyone have a pearl of wisdom of how on earth you teach a toddler not to suck their thumb? Plus, is it really that bad if these aren’t his adult teeth? It feels draconian and mean to coat it in something bitter (no idea what I’d use anyway!) and will spark many battles if I take it out of his mouth at bedtime.
Thanks for your thoughts,
Thank you for your email. Thumb sucking is a popular topic at Gin-HQ. In my experience, it possibly is a little draconian to coat his thumb in something nasty, but it’s often the only thing that will work. Something like this is unlikely to be resolved by a rewards scheme, but you know best as to whether that would work with your little boy so may be worth a try.
Going back to the question of whether it needs to be stopped at all, I wonder, are there signs of the teeth being pushed out of alignment? This is ultimately the worry, as it can affect the positioning of the adult teeth which use the deciduous (baby) teeth as a guide.
What your dentist is hoping to prevent is complex, lengthy orthodontic treatment in the future. This is something available free, on the NHS for all children so cost won’t be an issue, but it can result in uncomfortable treatment and multiple appointments potentially over a year or two. Having been through it myself, it’s not horrific, but probably best avoided if possible. The treatment itself can vary greatly, and sometimes involves teeth being removed to create room in the mouth.
Having said all that, not all thumb suckers require this treatment!
What you, as his mother have to weigh up is: how much will it upset him to change now? It may be that he’ll adjust quickly, in which case no worries! If you feel it would be too traumatic for him to stop you really need to know if the Dentist noticed signs of the teeth being moved or if the advice was generic and preventative? If that is the case, is it that desperate to get him to stop right now? Your Dentist could advise more with this and I would suggest that if you’re really concerned, go back for another chat.
Lots of Love,
Aunt Juniper* xx
*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper is Lis Dukes, Registered Dental Nurse with 12 years experience, the first 5 of which were spent in a family NHS practice.
She currently works at Guys Hospital in Sedation and Special Care treating those with severe medical issues, learning disabilities and phobias.
FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:
‘My mum said I was born thumb sucking and I continued to do so a lot as a child. I eventually had to get dental braces as a result of it because I thumb sucked off and on when my permanent teeth came through. So probably best to get your son to gradually stop thumb sucking. I recall a bitter solution being applied onto my thumb (which my grandma got from Australia in the 80s) with the hope that it would deter me from thumb sucking, but my mum said I eventually made it a part of my daily intake and continued to thumb-suck in my sleep. Getting the dental braces was not fun but what was most annoying was to be called ‘Bugs Bunny’ by a few horrible girls in school as my incisors were protruding a bit due to the thumb sucking.’
‘Have to admit I am in my 30s and am still trying to find a way to stop sucking my thumb – lol! It’s only when I sleep and wake up finding my thumb in my mouth… I’ve tried everything always looking for new ideas to stop.’
‘I stopped in my teens by wearing a glove to bed. Once I couldn’t suck my thumb to sleep I didn’t want to do it at all. Although I started again a few weeks later (too many people saying go on what does it feel like when you suck your thumb now) I know it would work again if I wanted it to. At the moment I don’t, but I don’t push on my teeth and they have stayed straight-ish.’
‘Thumb sucking is at its peak at about two. My daughter sucked her left index finger a lot at that age and then she just gave up doing it. She’ll be four in November.’
‘I still find my thumb in my mouth when really, really tired. My teeth are, and have always been perfectly straight. Everyone is different.’
‘We have a four-year-old thumb sucker. Mainly for sleep (we allow that) but can be daytime if super tired/upset. Have tried to cut out daytime but limited success. Better than a meltdown I feel!’
‘I had to wear a brace due to thumb sucking. I stopped by painting nail bite on my thumbs. I’d say at 2 I wouldn’t worry too much but start to gently discourage it maybe (or resign yourself to the potential dental work in the future – it’s not the end of the world!).’
‘I wouldn’t worry too much at this age but maybe try to reduce it from being a habit while he’s awake. Lots of distraction while playing, toys in hands plus tie toys onto the car seat, buggy, etc., to encourage those in the mouth more. I couldn’t bring myself to paint yucky stuff on to my thumb-sucking daughter when she was young. She is now 15 and does have a brace due to thumb-sucking. She only stopped about 10/11 because the orthodontist told her she had to! I tried her on the dummy from birth as found it easy to take son off his, but she didn’t want it.’
‘I have twins now nearly four. One’s a thumb sucker and the other isn’t. I don’t worry about it as the more we make a point of it, the more he does it. It’s a comfort thing and I think if it makes him feel secure then I want him to be happy. I’m sure there are worse things. We’re off to the dentist next week so it’ll be interesting to see how different his teeth are from his brothers. If I can actually get them to open their mouths for the dentist. That’s a whole different kettle of fish!’
‘I sucked my thumb until I was about 20! I have never had braces and my teeth are fine. I guess it’s more about encouraging them not to let the thumb hang out of the mouth pushing the teeth (I always had mine all the way in).’
‘I sucked my thumb until I was about 12, never had to wear a brace and I have perfectly straight teeth. Two is too young to stop him (bless him). My mini has a dummy and we’re planning on giving it up as a present to Father Christmas so a few more months for her to go yet (same as I did for my son). Like a thumb, it gives her so much comfort at sleep time or when poorly.’
‘Life is too short for battles, and this could turn very awful. Sucking the thumb is a natural habit that babies do in the womb! But it’s a shame people are cruel and have to make you feel bad doing it. True, it can push teeth forward but what the heck if it helps you in some way; it’s your life isn’t it! Plus braces correct the problems and they aren’t forever. You could try, but if it doesn’t work I wouldn’t worry too much.’
‘Our dentist explained that the issue is not to do with teeth so much as changing the jaw line because the bones in young children are still developing and v soft. After years and years of very embarrassing teeth and painful braces I would do anything to avoid the risk of my daughter going the same way.’
‘I had the opposite scenario. I saw a lovely dentist who said his sister used to suck her thumb, his parents tried loads of things to stop her including putting a plaster cast on her arm. She got so distressed that she started bed-wetting. His advice was, it’s a comfort thing. Don’t stress them out about stopping as this then may make them want to suck their thumb more and most kids grow out of it. As a thumb sucker myself, I stopped when I was about 7 when someone told me I’d get buck-teeth. At least I was old enough to understand the deal then.’
‘Ok another adult thumb sucker here too… I remember dentist telling me that actually it helps prevent cavities as you produce more saliva when you suck. On teeth shape- mine are fine, my sister however never sucked her thumb and had braces for 5 years. I don’t believe it alters your teeth- your genetics give you the shape of your teeth.’
‘Just reiterating that genetics and hereditary factors play a much stronger role in how teeth come through. Excessive thumb/finger sucking probably doesn’t help but whether or not orthodontic treatment will be needed is largely out of your hands.’
‘Our dentist said some parents had success with thumb guards (for my 3yo thumb sucker), haven’t tried it yet as apparently takes a few weeks of broken sleep while they get used to it!’
‘Our dentist – who lectures in paediatric dentistry – said just leave it when our thumb sucking daughter was two – her advice was that if she still does when older, then worth a conversation but not at two. I was relieved!’
‘At 41, I still love sucking my thumb!’
‘My mum is a dentist and she has ways advised that thumb sucking can influence the alignment of adult teeth as the tooth bed is adjusted by the thumb whilst the jawbones are still malleable. She recommends negotiation a swap (warning: ironic / unexpected advice coming up!) to an orthodontic dummy. These are the flat type with a flicked end which passes through the mouth landing the teat in the soft palate away from the back of teeth; unlike the ball shaped dummies where the sucking action drags the ball teat over the back of the teeth and risks pushing them out. This way little one can get comfort, teeth are protected.’
‘Sigh… I have tried thumb paint and spent a fortune on thumb guards for my twins. 12 months later they still both go back to it after a few weeks without the guard. Thumbs got so sore with the guard and paint we have given up. Their top palates look a bit odd but hey-ho, it I wasn’t looking for all American teeth! They are happy and sleep well, and that is makes me happy too!’
Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.
Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.