The mouth provides a baby’s first contact with the external world, and sucking is an infant’s first coordinated muscular activity. Babies even suck their thumb before they are born. The survival of a newborn baby depends on instinctive nutritive sucking, which allows for essential nourishment. Infants also engage in non-nutritive sucking of their fingers and thumbs, which provides them with a sense of well-being, comfort, and security.
Thumb sucking, however, can also have negative influences on both dental development and speech. Prolonged thumb sucking can deform a child’s upper dental arch, cause a crossbite, protrude teeth, and create an open bite. The extent of these negative consequences are affected by the duration of the habit, the daily frequency of the habit, and the manner in which the thumb is placed into the mouth.
After the age of four, correction of a thumb habit may involve using psychological and/or physical preventive measures. Evaluation by pediatric dentist may be necessary to help resolve the sucking problem. The ultimate goal is to help your child stop the habit rather then forcing them to stop sucking.
Prevention is the key when it comes to dental health. The American Dental Association, the American Academy of General Dentistry, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry all recommend that your child’s first dental visit take place at 12 months of age, or shortly after the eruption of the first baby teeth. This is the ideal time for a dentist to evaluate your child’s oral and dental health, as well as to diagnose any problems which may exist.
· Parents should not put children to sleep with a bottle containing any liquid other than water. Parents should encourage their infants to begin drinking from a cup around their first birthday.
· Parents should help brush their children’s teeth every day, after every meal.
· Parents should not let their children drink fruit juice or sweetened drinks from a bottle or “sippy” cup, since this prolongs the exposure of teeth to harmful sugar.
· Parents should provide healthy, balanced meals for children. They should limit the amount of sugar-laden foods and snacks in their diet. Plenty of healthy snacks should be available for children. Cheese products actually fight dental caries.
· Parents can help make children’s teeth more decay-resistant by using an ADA-approved children’s toothpaste.
· Children taking oral medications should have their teeth cleansed after each dose of medication. Nearly 100% of children’s medications contain sucrose, which can increase the risk of developing dental caries.
· Children should have their first oral/dental health evaluation by the age of 12 months, or within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth.
· Parents should consider providing children with xylitol-containing chewing gum, which can help prevent dental caries.