Thumb Sucking

Most children – more than 75% – suck their thumbs or fingers. It can be a comforting experience for children. But can it have consequences for dental health? Is it a cause for concern? Usually, it's not an issue – it's quite normal – but below are a few things to be aware of.

Typical Thumb Sucking Behavior

It's not unusual for children to begin sucking their thumb or fingers while still in the womb. It's a natural reflex and its often used to comfort our little ones. Most children will stop sucking their thumb somewhere between ages 2 and 4 when the behavior no longer serves a purpose, according to research by the American Dental Association. However, for some children the behavior becomes habitual and persists beyond this age. If your child is still sucking their thumb after they begin to lose their baby teeth, it may be time to consider changing their behavior.

There are some other things to be aware of too. If your child is sucking their thumb passively – their thumb will appear to be resting inside their mouth with little to know sucking behaviors – it is far less likely to cause damage. More aggressive, active sucking results in pressure on gums and teeth and could be problematic in the long term. It can impact the teeth and shape of the face. Orthodontic intervention may be needed depending on the severity.

If you're concerned or have questions, please feel free to reach out to us.

Techniques to Help Your Child Quit

  1. Be positive: Praise your child when they're not sucking their thumb rather than punishing them when they are.
  2. Use a barrier: Band aids, finger puppets, and socks can be placed on your child's thumb to block them from sucking and reminding them not to engage in the behavior.
  3. Rewards: Progress charts – placing stickers for every day that your child doesn't suck their thumb – can be a great way to reward and reinforce positive behaviors in your child. You can give more tangible rewards after reaching some milestone, such as seven days without sucking their fingers. This reward might be a favorite game or special meal.
  4. Relieve Anxiety: Children sometimes suck their thumb when they are anxious, so consider finding ways to help reduce this anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb sucking itself.