Sucking Habit

Is thumbsucking normal?

Most children begin sucking their thumbs or fingers from a very young age, many even start while still they’re still in the womb! Sucking is a natural reflex in infants, related to breastfeeding, and serves an important purpose. Thumbsucking can also provide comfort and a sense of security. It can even be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumbsucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply out grow the habit. However, some children continue sucking their thumb beyond the preschool years. If your child is still sucking when their permanent teeth start to erupt, it is time to take action and break the habit. 

Sucking habits, with fingers or a pacifier, can cause what is called a “Crossbite.” This is when the upper teeth, or a single tooth, line up inside the lower teeth. 

How can I help my child quit thumbsucking?

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

  1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb sucking, give praise when they don't suck their thumb.
  2. Put a bandage on their thumb or a sock over their hand at night. Let them know that this isn't a punishment, just a way to remind them not to suck.
  3. Start a progress chart and let them put a sticker up for every day that they don't suck thier thumb. If they make it through a week without sucking, then they get to choose a prize (like a trip to the zoo, or a new set of blocks, etc.). When they've filled up a whole month, reward them with something great (like a ball glove, or a new video game). If your child can make it a month without sucking, the habit should be broken.
  4. If you notice your child sucking when they're anxious, focus on alleviating their anxiety rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.
  5. Take note of the times when your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
  6. Explain clearly what might happen to his teeth if he keeps sucking his thumb.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the habit of thumbsucking. Making your child an active participant in their treatment will only increase their willingness to break the habit.