Saliva and skin damage - what should I do?


If your child is a frequent or long-term thumb sucker, the constant exposure to saliva can have adverse effects on their skin, causing irritation, dryness, and even infection. In this blog post, we will explore the damage saliva can do to the skin on hands during thumb sucking, and provide some tips to help heal damaged skin.

The composition of Saliva

Firstly, it is important to understand the composition of saliva. Saliva is made up of water, mucus, enzymes, and other substances that help with digestion. When a child sucks their thumb, the saliva comes into contact with the skin on their hands, and the enzymes in the saliva start to break down the skin's protective barrier. This can lead to dryness, cracking, and peeling of the skin, making it more susceptible to infection.

Saliva and skin damage

The constant exposure to saliva can also disrupt the pH balance of the skin. The skin's natural pH is slightly acidic, which helps to keep harmful bacteria at bay. However, saliva is alkaline, which can neutralize the skin's acid mantle and leave it vulnerable to infection.

Another issue with thumb sucking is that it can introduce bacteria and germs into the mouth, which are then transferred to the skin on the hands. This can lead to infections such as paronychia, a painful condition where the skin around the nails becomes inflamed and infected.

So, what can you do to help heal damaged skin caused by saliva during thumb sucking?

  1. Keep the hands clean and dry

One of the simplest things you can do to prevent damage to the skin is to keep your child's hands clean and dry. Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, and pat them dry with a clean towel. Avoid using hot water, as this can further dry out the skin.

  1. Apply a moisturizer

Using a moisturizer can help to restore the skin's natural moisture barrier and prevent further damage. Look for a moisturizer that is gentle and fragrance-free, and apply it to the affected area after washing and drying the hands. You can also apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly or a healing ointment such as Aquaphor to help soothe and protect the skin.

  1. Cover the hands

Another way to protect the skin is to cover the thumbs with thumb guards. This can help to prevent further damage caused by thumb sucking and protect the skin from environmental irritants. Look for thumb guards made from a breathable material such as cotton, and make sure they fit comfortably to avoid further irritation.

  1. Encourage your child to stop thumb sucking

While it may be difficult to get your child to stop thumb sucking, it is important to try and break the habit. You can try using positive reinforcement, such as offering rewards for not sucking their thumb, or negative reinforcement, such as placing a bitter-tasting substance on the thumb. You can also try distracting your child with other activities, such as playing with a toy or reading a book. Of course thumb guards do more than protect skin from saliva, they also help children end their thumb-sucking habits.

  1. Seek medical advice

If the skin on the hands becomes infected, it is important to seek medical advice. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal cream to help clear up the infection. They may also recommend using a steroid cream to reduce inflammation and itching.

In conclusion, thumb sucking is a common habit among children, but it can have adverse effects on the skin on hands due to constant exposure to saliva. To prevent damage to the skin, it is important to keep the hands clean and dry, apply a moisturizer, cover the hands, and encourage your child to stop thumb sucking. If the skin becomes infected, seek medical advice to prevent further complications. By following these simple tips, you can help to keep your child's skin healthy and prevent damage caused by thumb sucking.

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