Thumb Sucking

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children between the ages of 2-4 are encouraged to cease the thumb sucking habit. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are not substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking of a pacifier, consult your dentist.

A few suggestions to help your child stop the habit

  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents
  • Your dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue
  • Children may suck their thumbs when they feel insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of thumb sucking
  • Children may suck their thumbs for comfort as well. If they use a blanket when they suck their thumb, remove the object it is associated with.
  • If these approaches do not work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. You dentist may recommend the use a mouth appliance or thumb crib to stop the habit if the child will not do it themselves.