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Dental Profession

Looking after your child’s teeth doesn’t have to suck!

By Leigh Hunter, Oral Health Coach

Having a baby brings a mix of emotions including joy, excitement but also anxiety. Nowadays there is so much pressure on mums and dads to be the ‘perfect parent’ and often you find yourself subject to opinions and scrutiny from society to do the right thing, which can be confusing and stressful.

An area people often like to share their opinions on is how to pacify your baby. Sometimes this advice is better received depending on various factors including, who is giving their opinion, how the opinion is communicated, how sleep deprived you may be, hormones etc – the list goes on!

Thumb or Digit Sucking

A baby’s natural instinct is to suck. Thumb or digit sucking may start in the womb and then develop into a childhood habit. Sucking a thumb, finger, dummy, or a combination of all three, may give your baby or child comfort, soothing them when they are tired or agitated, and make them feel more secure and happy.

Sound like a great solution for an unsettled child? It certainly does, but it can have a down side.

What are the pros and cons?

The pros and cons of a dummy verses digits can be debated at length. The obvious comment is that you can take a dummy away – you can’t remove a thumb or finger. Usually it is the child who chooses a digit over a dummy. While most children grow out of the ‘sucking’ habit between two and four years of age, some continue to ‘suck’ well beyond this, even into adulthood.

While whatever they suck may be useful in settling young babies and encouraging strong sucking patterns, the usefulness of sucking a dummy or thumb/finger declines after a developmental age of around six months. Persistent sucking beyond the age of 12 months can lead to problems with speech and language development, and also the growth of the teeth and jaws. Those children that suck for 6 hours or more a day are most at risk of developing significant problems with tooth alignment.

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“I love the Thumbsie® – it works every time I recommend it! The Thumbsie® provides a fun way for a dentist or parent to help the child stop sucking because after all, it’s a hard habit to kick." Dr. Kotecha of Glen Dental Buy Now

At what age will they stop thumb sucking?

Some children enjoy sucking beyond 2 years of age, with prolonged finger/thumb sucking more common in girls than boys. If it continues beyond the age when adult teeth start to appear (about 6-7 years) it can cause problems with the position of teeth, resulting in the need for sometimes lengthy and complex orthodontic treatment (braces). While orthodontics can help improve your child’s smile, they must have given up sucking their finger/thumb before the start of treatment. Wearing braces requires commitment to regular attendance at the dentist’s (sometimes once a month), good overall oral health and excellent oral hygiene. Prevention better than cure springs to mind!

Giving up thumb/finger sucking can be a real challenge. This is where Thumbsies® come in.

Growing Smiles Thumbsie

Growing Smiles recommends Thumbsie®

Once a child is ready to break the habit a Thumbsie® helps by creating a physical barrier and a psychological reminder that they are sucking. Often children suck totally subconsciously. The Thumbsie® is a fun and positive reminder that their thumb/finger is heading mouth-wards. Children become engaged and involved in decision making by choosing the fabric design and really personalising the challenge of breaking their habit. The Thumbsie® website offers great tips and advice on how to help your child break their thumb sucking habit.

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Whatever your child sucks – finger, thumb and or dummy, it is important to look after their teeth right from the first tooth erupting in the mouth.

Growing smiles children teeth

Looking After Your Child’s Teeth

As soon as the first tooth erupts into the mouth it should be cleaned with a small toothbrush and toothpaste with at least 1000ppm fluoride. Use a smear of toothpaste on a dry toothbrush and brush last thing at night and one other time every day, taking time to clean all surfaces of each tooth. Parents or carers should brush or supervise brushing their child’s teeth until they can manage to clean thoroughly by themselves, usually around the age of 7- 8 years.

Children over 3 years should use a pea sized blob of family toothpaste with at least 1350ppm fluoride. After brushing spit out the excess toothpaste but don’t rinse with mouth rinse or water – let the fluoride work for as long as possible to make the teeth stronger and more resistant to tooth decay.

What else can you do to help your child have a healthy smile? The short answer is quite a lot! All children should have their first dental visit by their first birthday – even if they aren’t keen to let the dentist look at their teeth.  This is an opportunity for you to get advice about your child’s oral health, including any concerns you have about thumb/finger/digit sucking.

You will find lots of useful tips and oral care products the professionals recommend at growingsmiles.co.uk.

Our second Thumbsie® blog post will look in more detail at what you can do every day to help your child have a healthy smile for life and more on looking after your child’s teeth. Hold this thought –by and large, tooth decay is preventable!

About the author

Leigh Hunter, Oral Health Coach

Leigh Hunter is an oral health coach and founder of GrowingSmiles.co.uk. Leigh has over 30 years’ experience in a variety of dental environments both in the UK and abroad. She is passionate about prevention and quality, individually focused oral health care. She continues to work in practice and is actively involved in education and training in the UK and Ireland. She is a member of the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, British Society of Periodontology, Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, British Society for Disability and Oral Health, Association of Dental Implantology,  British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry and  the  Oral Health Foundation. The Growing Smiles team are committed to improving oral health and to the philosophy of helping you, help yourself to a healthier smile.

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