Thumb Sucking and its management

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.

It is generally done by child when they are:

  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Worried
  • Feeling stressed

Thumb sucking and its effect

The intensity, frequency and duration 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

Reshape the jawbone because their jawbones are still soft and pliable
Narrows dental arches due to contraction of check muscles while sucking thumb.
Upper front teeth will flare out and tip upward; this makes them prone for trauma.
Lower teeth will move
Affect growth of child’s palate (roof of the mouth) causing:

  • Poor tongue placement
  • Chewing problems
  • Problems with learning to swallow properly.
  • Speaking problems
  • Overbite or open bite.
  • Make tonsils collapse to cause snoring.
  • The skeletal deformities which can develop can lead to insecurities and self-image problems, particularly in children.
  • Cause infections to develop around finger\ thumb nails to spread infectious diseases

Breaking the habit

Thumb sucking till the age of 3 years is quite normal and may not cause major side effects. However it is important to stop the thumb sucking habit BEFORE permanent teeth starts coming in from age 6 year onwards. Breaking the habit by the ages of three to four is better and easier but if they continue beyond that don’t pressure your child to stop, this can reinforce the habit, you need to seek professional help from our Orthodontist.

Some tips to help your child leave habit:

  • Praise them when they do not suck their thumb.
  • 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.
  • Try the bitter solution (it works well, initially generally around 3-5 years)
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • If you feel your child’s teeth are moving, talk to us for personalized advice.
  • See our orthodontist Dr. Naman Vora to help you learn more about an appliance that will help your child to stop sucking their thumb.

Habit breaking appliances.