Thumb Sucking

thumb sucking

Thumb sucking is a common habit among many children.  It is common with children under three and is associated with the need to seek food.  In some infants it can signal fatigue, sleep, hunger, teething and shyness.

Thumb sucking and it’s effect

thumb teethThirty percent of preschool children continue the habit. Most kids out grow it by 5 to 7 years of age.  It is may be harmful if child is still doing it at the time their permanent teeth are coming in, which is usually around 6 years.

It is generally done by child when they are:

  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Worried
  • Feeling stressed

The intensity and frequency of thumb sucking is a factor which determines whether or not dental problems may occur.  Vigorous thumb suckers will have more dental problems.

The possible effects of thumb sucking for children after the age of three is
  • Thumb SuckingReshape the jawbone because their jawbones are still soft and pliable
  • Teeth grow out of aliment and position
  • Narrows dental arches which cause the next problem
  • Upper front teeth will flare out and tip upward ,this makes them prone for trauma.
  • Lower teeth will move inward
  • Affect growth of child’s palate (roof of the mouth) causing:
    1. Poor tongue placement
    2. Problems chewing
    3. Problems with learning to swallow properly.
    4. Problems speaking
    5. Overbite or open bite.
    6. Make tonsils collapse to cause snoring.
    7. The skeletal deformities which can develop can lead to insecurities and self-image problems, particularly in children.
    8. Cause infections to develop around fingernails to spread infectious diseases.

The tongue plays a major role in swallowing. For people who don’t suck their thumb or finger, their tongue goes up behind the roof of their mouth as they swallow and this causes a seal. But, when trying to swallow while sucking the thumb or finger, the tongue is thrust forward, in between the front teeth. This action makes swallowing difficult and will require re-training to correct the tongue movement.

Breaking the habit

It is important to stop the thumb sucking habit BEFORE permanent teeth come in.  Breaking the habit sooner will make it easier for you, the parent, your child and their mouth! If they can not stop on their own, by the ages of three to four, they may need help

  • breakingDon’t pressure your child to stop, this can reinforce the habit
  • Talk to them about the reasons and ways to work together to stop the habit
  • Praise them when they do not suck their thumb.
  • If you feel your child’s teeth are moving, talk to us for personalized advice.
  • Set up an incentive system to reward their progress
  • Don’t get frustrated with your child; this tends to make the habit worse.
  • If they suck because they feel insecure, focus on eliminating the cause of the anxiety.
  • Have them hold balls in their hands while they sleep so their hands are busy.
  • Reward them for NOT sucking their thumbs
  • If your child is older, involve them in choosing the method of stopping.(when they are willing to stop , but subconsciously suck it while watching TV or sleeping.)
  • Try the bitter solution (it works well, initially generally around 3-5 years)
  • Have them wear a large shirt with long sleeves, while sleeping  Button it completely on and tie the arms or rubber band them shut so they can not suck on their thumb.
  • Remind your child of his habit by bandaging his thumb or putting a sock on his hand at bedtime.
  • Ask us to explain to your child the effects of thumb sucking and encourage him/her to quit.
  • See our orthodontist Dr. Naman Vora to help you learn more about an appliance that will help your child to stop sucking their thumb.



Some of the examples of habit breaking appliances.

Dr. Vora's Dental Care We Treat We Care, Since 1975

Comments or questions are welcome.

* indicates required field