Thumb Sucking

Sucking is a natural reflex in infants that allows them to take in nourishment. This continues as your baby develops into a young child, most often shown through sucking on fingers, pacifiers, and other objects. The action of sucking allows your child to feel secure and comforted, much like when they were breast-feeding. Sometimes your child may even suck on their fingers or a pacifier when relaxing or falling asleep.

As their permanent teeth appear, sucking on thumbs or other objects should stop. Sucking with permanent teeth can cause problems with tooth alignment and development. The object sucked on rests against their mouth and teeth which causes continual contact and pressure that can force their bite out of alignment. If your child rests their thumb in their mouth, then consequences will likely be minor. However, vigorous sucking causes greater consequences.

Between the ages of two and four, most children naturally stop this habit. For those continuing at ages five and beyond, peer pressure normally ends the habit. Remember, pacifiers are the same as thumb sucking. The sucking action and constant contact is the problem, not the object.

Since thumb sucking links to feelings of security and safety, use a gentle approach. The American Dental Association (ADA) has several helpful tips to aid you and your child:

  1. Be positive. Instead of scolding your child when they are sucking their thumb, praise them when they are not. Be especially encouraging and reward your child when they resist thumb sucking during times of stress.
  2. Focus on fixing the anxiety. Many children suck their thumbs due to feelings of insecurity. Try to find out the cause of the anxiety. By reducing your child's anxieties, you reduce the need to suck on an object to feel secure.
  3. Comfort your child. During stressful times, provide your child with the comfort they are seeking. A much-needed hug may remove the need for the child to thumb suck.
  4. Use external reminders. If your child is old enough, use external reminders to help them break the habit. Place a sock on the hand when at home or at night, or place a bandage on the thumb. If necessary, your pediatrician can prescribe a bitter tasting nail coating.


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