Thumb Sucking Habit

Thumb sucking is a common habit in babies and children. Many kids will stop sucking their thumb on their own, usually between ages 2-4, but this isn’t always the case.

Thumb Sucking in Babies, Toddlers, and Children

Babies have natural reflexes that cause them to start sucking their thumbs. Thumb sucking functions as a way for babies and toddlers to feel comfortable or soothed in moments of stress. Typically, children stop thumb sucking on their own, but not always.

It is very important for your child’s oral health that they stop thumb sucking by the age of 4, at the oldest. Past the age of 4, this habit could start to have negative effects on the development of their teeth and jaw. These problems could even result in the need for orthodontic treatment later in life. Don’t worry, though! Our team can provide helpful guidance on how to break the cycle gently.

Thumb Sucking Treatment

We understand that this can be a difficult habit to break and sometimes a seemingly impossible task for a parent. So, whether you’re here for your child’s first dental visit, or they are at the age of 4—we can provide strategies to help you reduce and ultimately break your child’s thumb-sucking habit. Each child is different and may require a different approach. We have at-home tips for parents below, but there are times when we will recommend a thumb-sucking appliance.

picture of child sucking their thumb outside
  • How can I help my child to stop sucking their thumb?

    There are a variety of methods out there on how to stop thumb sucking in toddlers and children. We suggest the following:

    • Set attainable goals. This habit won’t be broken overnight, so set a realistic timeline of goals for your child to help them understand their progress.
    • Use positive reinforcement. You can praise your child, put a sticker on a calendar, give them a reward, or whatever works best for your child to feel rewarded for their behavior.
    • Identify triggers. Children will suck their thumb as a stress response. Identifying the underlying issue for your child’s stress can help you provide comfort to them and remove the need for them to have comfort from sucking their thumb.
    • Provide comfort. Sometimes children just need to hear reassuring words or receive physical comfort, like a hug, to feel less overwhelmed, insecure or stressed.
    • Give gentle reminders. If your child sucks their thumb as a habit—rather than an attention-seeking behavior—gently remind them to stop. Don’t criticize, ridicule, or scold them.
    • Bring them to a pediatric dentist. Dentists can provide additional encouragement to help your child stop thumb sucking and for some kids, talking with the dentist is more effective than a talk with a parent.

    Our office is always here to help you navigate your child’s oral health habits, from thumb sucking to the basics of brushing and flossing—even if your child is not yet a current patient. If you feel like you’ve tried everything to get your child to stop thumb sucking but haven’t had any luck, have any questions about pediatric dentistry, or if you are ready to set up your child’s first dental visit—contact our office today!

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  • How can thumb sucking affect my child’s teeth?

    Thumb sucking can have negative effects on children’s oral health, but this isn’t always the case. Prolonged sucking on any object, such as a thumb or pacifier, places repetitive pressure on the teeth, mouth, and jawbone. This pressure can cause issues with the growth of your child’s mouth and/or alignment of their permanent teeth.

    It is a common misconception that you don’t have to worry about your child’s thumb-sucking habit until their permanent teeth start to come in, but damage can occur before that. The risk of thumb sucking negatively affecting your child’s teeth depends on how long, how often, and how intensely your child sucks their thumb. Some long-term effects can include:

    • Open bite: the top and bottom front teeth become directed outward, causing the front teeth to not touch even when your child’s mouth is closed. This misalignment can require orthodontic correction in the future.
    • Overbite: the top teeth cover the bottom teeth when your child’s mouth is closed rather than the top and bottom teeth touching normally.
    • Changes in jaw shape: a misaligned jaw can result in speech impediments like lisping or mispronouncing certain letters.

Questions About Thumb Sucking?

If you're concerned about your child's thumb-sucking habit or if you have any questions contact us today, request an appointment for your child, or explore the other pediatric dental services we offer using the links below.