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Dr. Jeff Hiester
Dr. Jeff Hiester
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Thumbsucking

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb-sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. Even before birth, most children can be seen sucking their thumb in the womb. 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. Usually there is no cause for concern. 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?

The majority of children suck a thumb or a finger from a very young age; most even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant, and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

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.

What Signs Should I Watch For?

First, take note of how your child sucks his thumb. If he sucks passively, with his thumb gently resting inside his mouth, he is less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, he is an aggressive thumb-sucker, placing pressure on his 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 will likely 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 in for a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

  • Always be supportive and positive.
  • Instead of punishing your child for thumb sucking, give praise during the times when he doesn't suck his thumb or finger.
  • Put a band-aid on his thumb or a sock over his hand at night. Let him know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help him remember to avoid sucking.
  • Start a progress chart and let him put a sticker up every day that he doesn't suck his thumb. If he makes it through a week without sucking, he gets to choose a prize (trip to the zoo, new set of blocks, etc.) When he has filled up a whole month reward him with something great (a ball glove or new video game), by then the habit should truly be over. Making your child an active participant in his treatment will increase his willingness to break the habit. This program has the greatest chance for success.
  • 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 his teeth if he keeps sucking his thumb.

It is very difficult to force your child to quit sucking their thumb or finger. Finding something to motivate your child to stop sucking their thumb or finger (i.e. a new toy, sticker charts, or a special trip with mom and dad) is the key to sucessfullly eliminating the sucking behavior. Our office can make an appliance that makes it less enjoyable for your child to suck on their thumbs or fingers. This is generally used as a last resort. Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the thumb or finger sucking habit.