Thumb Sucking

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

Children suck on things because sucking is one of a baby's natural instincts. Sucking makes them feel secure and content, and may induce drowsiness. Prolonged thumb sucking (or pacifier sucking) interferes with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth. This improper development, if not corrected, will change the appearance of the child's face.

When Should Children Stop Sucking Their Thumbs?

Children should stop between the ages of 2 to 4. If you are having trouble breaking your child's habit, try to:

  • Comfort him if he is feeling insecure. Sometimes children suck their thumb for a sense of security.
  • Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise him when he doesn't suck his thumb, especially during difficult periods.
  • Explain to older children the dangers of thumb sucking and involve them in choosing the method to break the habit.
  • If you need help stopping your child's thumb sucking habit, we can provide you with a patient-friendly dental appliance that will break the habit.
  • Contact Us for more information and an appointment.

Problems Caused by Thumb and Finger Sucking

Buck teeth – for example, the front teeth may be pushed out of alignment. This can alter the shape of the face and lead to an open bite.

A lisp – pre-school children who suck their fingers and thumbs can push their teeth out of their normal position. This interferes with the correct formation of certain speech sounds.

Helping Children Stop Thumb and Finger Sucking

There are various things you can do to help your child stop thumb sucking. Focusing on the positives and rewarding your child are important. Depending on your child’s age and ability, you might like to try the following suggestions:

  • Reward your child and offer encouragement – for example, with a hug or praise to reinforce their decision to stop the habit.
  • Limit nagging – if children feel they are being nagged they will become defensive.
  • Mark their progress on a calendar – for example, place a star or a tick for each period (such as a day or week) that the child does not suck their thumb or finger.   
  • Provide a special outing or a toy if the child gets through the period successfully.
  • Encourage bonding – for example, with a special toy.
  • Reminders – give your child a mitten to wear as a reminder not to suck, or place unpleasant taste on the fingers or thumb. Placing a band aid over the thumb at bedtime is another reminder.
  • Offer Distractions – while your child is watching TV, have toys available for children to play with. Sit with the child during this time and give a cuddle to help them not to suck. In the car, have toys available to keep them occupied.

How Often to Reward Your Child

Younger children need more frequent rewards. A five to six year old may need a reward after the first night. You can gradually stretch out the reward period from one night, to a week and then to 30 days without thumb or finger sucking.

Children can easily drift back to their old habit and it may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. Remember to be patient and that the first few days without sucking are usually the worst.

Where to Get Help

  • Your dentist or oral health professional
  • Your doctor
  • Your public oral health service

Things to Remember

  • Children usually stop thumb and finger sucking between two and four years of age.
  • Thumb and finger sucking after seven years of age may cause dental problems.
  • It takes patience to help your child stop the habit.
  • Rewarding your child for not thumb or finger sucking may help.