How to Stop Kids From Biting Their Nails, Sucking Their Thumbs, and More
“Nonnutritive sucking—pacifiers, fingers—is expected for babies and toddlers,” says Joel H. Berg, D.D.S., the president of
the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. First, it’s instinctive, but then it’s soothing. Most kids give it up by age
3 or 4. Eventually it could lead to buckteeth, an overbite, or jaw-alignment issues.
The substitute: Give your child a squishy ball, such as a Koosh, to fiddle with, especially when he’s most likely to go for the thumb (like TV time).
Also try: Berg is no fan of the bitter paint-on preparations to deter thumb-sucking. “Kids will just wash it off, and I don’t think they work well anyway,” he says. “I have a conversation with the child. I’ll show them photos of crooked teeth and say, ‘I know you care about your smile, and we can work together on this.’ ” Parents should use only positive reinforcement, he says. “Don’t make note of when he’s sucking his thumb, only when he’s not.”
More drastic measures: A pediatric dentist can fit a child with an appliance, called a crib, to be worn around the clock. “These fit below the palate and make it impossible to create a seal,” says Berg.