Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb-sucking can be a source of comfort for children. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there’s a thumb-sucker (or a former thumb-sucker) in your family. Is this cause for worry?

In most cases, the answer is no. However, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s habits, in case his behavior has the potential to affect his oral health.

What Is Normal Thumb-Sucking Behavior?

Most children begin sucking their thumb or finger from a very young age; many even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant and it serves an important purpose. Sucking provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one and can help relax them to sleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb-sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them. However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower his chances of continuing to suck his thumb). If the habit persists when his permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action.

What Signs Should I Watch For?

First, take note of how your child sucks their thumb. If they suck passively, with the thumb gently resting inside their mouth, he or she is less likely to cause damage. If on the other hand, they are an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on their mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child’s thumb-sucking may be affecting his oral health, please give us a call or bring him or her in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

Should you need to help your child end his habit, follow these guidelines:

    • Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb-sucking, give praise when they don’t suck.
    • Put a bandage on their thumb or a sock over their hand at night. Let them know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help them remember to avoid sucking.
    • Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day they don’t suck their thumb. If he or she makes it through a week without sucking, they get to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.).  Making your child an active participant in their treatment will increase their willingness to break the habit.
    • If you notice your child sucking when their anxious, work on alleviating their anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb-sucking.
    • Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
    • Explain clearly what might happen to their teeth if they keep sucking their thumb.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the thumb-sucking habit.