Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The problem with doctorly advice...

He was so excited
So recently E had his very first dental appointment.  We have been brushing twice a day since before that child had teeth so it was no surprise that his teeth were perfect, just beautiful.  His cleaning went well and we got the common praises from both hygentist and dentist.  And then came the advice...

"So he is a thumb sucker I see..."


He then proceeded to tell me about how his teeth are being pushed out of normal bite range and how that will affect his grown up teeth.  I asked some questions and got some answers.

The he turned to E and said, "you should really try not to suck your thumb if you can".

I was fine with all of his advice as that is his job to give it and to focus on his teeth, and to tell us what to expect, but then he went on...

"and Mom, you need to make sure he has stopped by the time he is five."

I responded with, "we will have to see how things go" trying to divert this conversation so I did not loose my cool.

He continued to explain how if he doesn't stop by age five his teeth will be permanently affected.  Yada Yada Yada.

That is when I used a statement I so often said to parents who came into my preschool distraught because their dentist had given them a hard time about their thumb or pacifier sucking child,
"Orthodontics is a whole lot cheaper than therapy."

The hygentist and dentist did not laugh, but they did get quiet.
On the way home, E told me he didnt want to stop sucking his thumb.  I assured him that it was his choice and that mama was not going to make him stop (as if I could).

But that session has stuck with me.  It was the first time I was the parent in a situation like this.  I was so thankful for my years in early childhood and my knowledge of child development because his stern warnings did not phase me like it had so many parents I has worked with.

I have always disliked it when doctors of dentists gave advice like that to parents.  I know we pay them for there advice, but when it comes across as there is no other choice, parents feel like they are doing something wrong in the best case and parents do something horrible to their child like this contraption in the worst case.   Of course, the dentist is only thinking of his teeth and it is a parents job to think of their entire child and way the pros and cons.  However, I strongly believe that doctors and dentists opinions carry a lot of weight with parents and should be careful how they use that weight to get across their point.

This kind of situation, I believe, is the reason most parents would rather use a pacifier and do whatever they can to keep their child from sucking their thumb.
I often hear, "because a pacifier you can take away" at even a few weeks old.  The pressure to force even that situation on a young child just because the adults in their world have decided they are too old for that comfort is just ridiculous.  Yet, we are thinking of these things while the little ones are still in the womb.

If you ask me, no one ever died from being a thumb sucker.  Some people had to have braces because of it, some had to have braces (like me) even though they never had a pacifier or thumb as comfort, and some have sucked their thumb for a decade or more and have perfectly straight teeth.  So braces happen, big deal.

And doctors and dentists have their specialty, but it is not child development, even pediatricians do not focus on much more than a child's physical development, so I hope we all keep this in mind when hearing what they have to say and then make up your own mind as the guardian of this special person.

My top priority as a parent is to listen to my child and to focus on his needs as a whole.  He gains a great deal of comfort from his thumb and his psyche will always take precedence over his teeth.

He got a toy afterwards, so glad they didn't tell him it was for being "good" or this blog post might have taken a whole different path. 
Until he decides to stop, I will tell the dentist we heard him and ask him respectively to drop it.
I may even start sucking my thumb as a sign of support ;)


  1. I sucked my thumb until I was 12-and never needed braces. But I did make my thumb go double jointed! My parents never said a word about it, but the inevitable mean girls in middle school sure did!

    1. very true and I can see him facing that problem, but I also see that as part of life. Interesting you didnt face it until middle school. There is a little girl here, almost 7 and she still sucks her thumb, cares less what other kids think, I of course, adore her!

  2. My sister sucked on her fingers until 12 also and she ended up with the straightest teeth of all my siblings.

    1. right... the small percentage of possible complications is just not worth forcing my child through a torturous process of quitting.

  3. My eldest sucked his thumb in the womb and just before his 2nd b-day it became infected and the infection entered his bloodstream. He was hospitalized and put into reverse isolation (he was being protected from us not us from him). I simply told him as he was being admitted it was because of sucking his thumb and by the time he was released he had quit (he wasn't traumatized by me telling him that either, he decided he didn't want to be sick again). He did have braces as a young adult but that wasn't due to thumb sucking, he just had bad teeth genetics!
    My friend, a dental assistant, said that as long as the thumb is all the way in it is ok, it is when the tip of the thumb is placed and exerting pressure on the front teeth that it most likely will cause problems. (all my kids put the whole thing in).

    1. wow, sounds like an extreme and rare complication. I am glad he is OK.

  4. I don't think I sucked my thumb for an extended amount of time, but I had to get braces for a slight overbite, etc. I understand the concept of prevention for dental problems but it seems like a lot of it is genetic. Some kids/adults brush their teeth like nobody's business, get all their routine cleanings, etc. and still get cavities. And some of us don't brush as often as we should, haven't been to the dentist in 10 years, and don't get any cavities. I like your style Mama. Will be reading your blog from now on :)