According to the American Dental Association 66% of 0-2 year olds, 25% of 3-6 year olds, and 9% of children over 6 years old suck their thumbs. At birth, babies will reflexively suck any object placed in its mouth; this is the thumb sucking reflex responsible for breastfeeding. The reflex disappears at about four months of age. Thumb sucking is not all an instinctive behavior; therefore it can last much longer. Ultrasounds have revealed that thumb sucking can begin before birth, as early as 15 weeks (Benjamin). Sometimes parents may wonder why do children suck their thumbs, how do I break the habit, and what are the effects? Thumb sucking is a very common habit during childhood, and is normal in babies and young children. It has a soothing and calming effect. Thumb sucking is comforting for children, and they usually do it when they are: bored, tired, worried, and feeling stressed. Most children should outgrow the habit by the age of 5. Children that continue to suck their thumb over the ages of 6 to 8 years often get teased by peers at school, siblings, and relatives. The peer pressure is usually a motive for the child to stop. Thumb sucking is not harmful to the child unless the child continues the habit at the time the permanent teeth are ready to erupt which is usually between the ages of 4 and 5 (Fackler). If a child sucks his/her thumb on a regular basis, the habit can reshape the jawbone since it is still soft and pliable in children under the age of 8. It can also cause the teeth to grow out of alignment. In this case, the upper front teeth will flare out and the lower front teeth will move inward. This is called open bite, because there is a space between the upper and lower front teeth when the back teeth are closed together (Miller). Long term thumb sucking can also affect the growth of the child’s palate. This can lead to poor tongue placement and problems with chewing, swallowing, and speaking (Fackler). A child that...
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