Thumb Sucking

Dental problems can occur if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of 4. At Pediatric Dentistry of Brandon in Brandon, Florida, pediatric dentists Dr. Jorge Torres and his associates are sympathetic to parents’ concerns about thumb sucking—and they offer tips on how to help your child stop thumb sucking.

Why do babies suck their thumbs?

Babies have a strong, natural desire to suck. This natural instinct helps them nurse after they are born. Having such a strong need to suck makes sure they nurse well and receive the nutrition they need. Sonograms of babies in the womb show that they start thumb sucking before they are born. Thumb sucking is normal and healthy in infancy.

Why do young children continue to suck their thumbs?

The answer is simply that the habit soothes and comforts them. Most children outgrow the habit and stop on their own accord around age 3-4.

What can happen if a child continues thumb sucking beyond age 4?

Depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. This may cause your to child have difficulty with the correct pronunciation of words. The upper and lower jaws can become misaligned, and the roof of the mouth might become malformed. If this occurs, an early phase of facial-dental orthodontics (as early as age 6-7) can improve bone development, and later orthodontics applied to the secondary (permanent) teeth after most have come in (around age 12) can properly align the teeth for a lifetime of good looks, harmonious biting function, and better oral health.

Note: Because we examine your child’s mouth each time you bring your child for regularly scheduled checkups and cleanings, our dentists are frequently observing your child’s jaw growth and tooth development. We will inform you about your child’s oral health circumstances at each visit. This means that you will learn whether your child needs or is likely to need orthodontics as early as age 6-7 when the first permanent teeth erupt.

What can you do to help your child stop thumb sucking?

First, remember that thumb sucking is normal and should not be a concern unless the habit continues past age 4. In anticipation, you will want to help your child stop sucking by age 4.
Children need to want to stop sucking their thumbs and decide for themselves to stop. You and other family members can help by offering encouragement. Any negative scolding, nagging or punishments will fuel a sense of insecurity and make thumb sucking harder to stop. Instead, give praise and rewards for periods of time in which your child successfully avoids the habit. Gradually increase the time needed without sucking to achieve the reward. The younger the child, the more frequent the rewards will need to be given. For children who are attempting to stop, you can cover the finger or thumb with a band aid as a reminder.
We recommend that you take the thumb out of your child’s mouth after your child falls asleep.

What can you do if your child is still struggling to stop at age 4?

If your child is age 4 and still trying to break the habit, try to determine why. Is your child experiencing stress? Is your child internalizing a problem? Do what you can to alleviate stress and remove problems. Sometimes, the child needs a different type of help. Talk to Dr. Jorge Torres and his associates about your concerns. They will share with you information about a dental appliance that sits at the back of the upper teeth to make thumb sucking less pleasurable and has been proven to be very effective.