Thumb Sucking!

Sucking is a natural reflex and a self-calming habit for very young children. Infants and young children frequently use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects to suck to create a sense of relaxation and induce sleep. It may make them feel secure and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods.

Whether or not dental problems result from thumb sucking depends on how intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. Prolonged thumb sucking habits can lead to delayed language skills, speech impediments, tongue thrusting, difficulty in swallowing, prolonged drooling, and cross bites.

Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four when they can begin to verbalize their frustrations. Peer pressure also causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are no 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. Please discuss your concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier with Dr. Carlos Parajon during your child’s dental exam.

Here are a few ideas to help you help your child reduce occurrences of thumb sucking:

• Don’t scold children for thumb sucking. Instead, praise them when they do not.
• Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or anxious. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
• Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
• At bedtime, place a bandage on the thumb or cover the entire hand with a sock or mitten.
• Practice “not sucking” while reading a book or watching a video so that the calming behavior of reading or watching isn’t linked to the sucking habit.
• Don’t talk and answer if your child speaks to you with the thumb or fingers in the mouth. Wait to answer them when their thumb or fingers are OUT.

If the habit continues past age four, we may recommend an appointment with a therapist that specializes in muscle behavior modification, or alternatively, using a dental appliance like a night guard that will block your child’s thumb from entering his or her mouth.

Behavior modification, not criticism, is the best way to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking.

Back to Children Dentistry

Contact Us