Managing Wellness

The Basics of Thumb-Sucking in Babies and Children

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Posted by June 24, 2017

Parenting babies is tough stuff. Even though your employees love those little bundles of joy with all their heart, babies do some pretty weird stuff, like growling themselves to sleep or sucking on their fingers and toes nonstop. Among many other concerns, your staff is probably worried about whether or not that thumb-sucking will cause dental problems. Understanding the basics of thumb-sucking will put their mind at ease—so they can focus on other important stuff, like their work! Here’s a guide on thumb-sucking to share with your baby-and-toddler parent employees.

The Basics of Thumb-Sucking

Thumb-sucking is the process in which a baby or child will place their fingers or thumbs into their mouth and either gently or aggressively suck on them. This can happen before a baby’s teeth come in or later on during or after their baby teeth erupt.

When Thumb-Sucking Starts

Did you know that some babies suck on their fingers in the womb? It’s true. The habit can form before a baby is even born! However, there’s no particular age when infants suddenly decide to take on thumb-sucking. When a child first discovers their hands and fingers, they’ll naturally be curious about them. And, as all parents know, curious babies like to put new items in their mouth.

Why Babys Suck Their Thumbs (or Fingers!)

There are many reasons why babies and children suck on their thumbs, so encourage your staff not to get hung up on deciphering what exactly is causing the sucking. Here are some of the possibilities:

  • exploring new items in their world (fingers!)
  • calming themselves
  • falling asleep
  • putting pressure on teething gums
  • reducing anxieties

While every child is different, the American Dental Association (ADA) reports the age children often drop the habit (if not earlier) is between 2 and 4. This doesn’t mean your employee’s baby might suck on her fingers for five months and then suddenly stop. That can happen too. But for those who’ve been sucking on their thumb for a long period of time, the toddler years are when the habit seems to drop of its own.

Does Thumb-Sucking Cause Dental Problems?

If a baby sucks on his or her thumb for a short period of time, have no fear. Similarly, a child who simply rests his fingers between his gums or teeth (compared to aggressively sucking), should be fine. Most likely, the child won’t develop any dental issues from light habit. However, aggressive or prolonged sucking can develop into significant problems, such as mouth alignment issues, an open bite or front teeth that jut out.

Are you wondering whether a pacifier or thumb-sucking habit is better to have? The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests that a pacifier may be a better choice than thumb-sucking for babies who are looking for comfort, because it is an easier habit to stop.

If your employee’s child sucks their thumb, enourage them to take a deep breath and relax. Many children calm themselves by sucking on their thumbs or fingers. Most likely, their child will outgrow the behavior, and if not, they can work with their pediatric dentist or a behavioral strategist to develop a plan to help wean their child off the thumb-sucking. In the meantime, they’ll appreciate your being an employer that cares about their work-life balance and offers tips they can take home with them.

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