It’s natural for babies and toddlers to suck their thumbs, a soothing action humans have performed for centuries.

Most children stop thumb-sucking on their own, usually between the ages of 2 and 4.

But others continue the habit for years beyond that range – a habit that can lead to dental and orthodontic problems as they grow older.

Thumb-sucking can become a problem after permanent teeth come in, impacting the palate and tooth alignment.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children receive a screening from an orthodontist around age 7. But parents may want to consider earlier screening if thumb-sucking is causing problems with their child’s teeth and bite.

With offices in Fort Walton Beach and Niceville, Dr. Roger A. Grace and Dr. Brodie L. Bowman can screen children for orthodontic problems.

Meanwhile, there are ways to prevent your child from sucking their thumb – and from harming their teeth. Some tips from the Mayo Clinic can help parents help their children end the thumb-sucking habit, especially if it continues past the age of 5.

Some recommendations to stop the habit include:

  • In some cases, don’t respond to your child’s thumb-sucking. Many children do it to get attention, get their way or something they want. If parents cave in to the behavior, children may associate thumb-sucking with getting what they want.
  • Be positive when your child does not suck his or her thumb. Treat them to a fun activity as a reward for the good behavior.
  • Keep a calendar of your child’s behavior, marking days when no thumb-sucking occurs.
  • Children often suck their thumbs in response to stress. Give them a hug or have a reassuring talk with them.
  • Offer your child a pillow or stuffed toy to comfort them.

Mouth guards and other devices to prevent thumb-sucking are available as well.

If you think your child’s habit is damaging their teeth, contact Dr. Bowman before the problem gets worse.