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Stephen Fox D.M.D. | Member American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

Thumb Sucking

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing it may induce sleep.

Thumb sucking that persists beyond eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.

Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult Dr. Fox.

A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:

  • Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety.
  • Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
  • Reward your child when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods.
  • Dr. Fox can encourage your child to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
  • Additional use of a reward system. Small incentives will help your child stick with it.