Thumb Sucking: What You Need To Know

Baby boy sucking his thumb

Blog Highlights:

  • Thumb or finger sucking is common, and even normal, among babies and young children
  • Prolonged sucking can lead to changes in the mouth
  • Talk to your child’s dentist about your concerns

Thumb or finger sucking is common, and even normal, among babies and young children. Most children suck their thumb or finger as a form of comfort before they’re born. In most children  this habit begins to fade naturally anywhere between the ages of two and four years old. If the child uses a pacifier instead, most experts advise weaning them from it by the time they are 18 months old.

It is important for children to stop sucking on their thumb, fingers, or pacifier by a certain age. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises that all sucking habits stop by the time the toddler is three years old. Prolonged sucking can lead to changes in the development of the teeth and jaw. Over sucking can affect the growth pattern of their teeth, causing them to come in at an angle, and the jaw can potentially develop incorrectly.

Sometimes children are reluctant to let go of their thumb sucking habit or pacifier. Your child should already be seeing a general or pediatric dentist on a regular basis. Talk to your child’s dentist about your concerns. They can help monitor the child’s habit. They will make sure the jaw is developing properly and can offer advice on how to break your child’s reliance on his thumb or pacifier.

Generally a pacifier habit is easier to handle than a thumb sucking habit. You can encourage your child to stop using his pacifier by giving positive reinforcement. Create a schedule with incremental goals to eliminate the use of the pacifier. Reward your child when he reaches one of these goals, for example, sleeping through the night without his pacifier. You might also try breaking the habit all at once. For example, tell your child that there are other children who need his pacifiers. Make it ceremonial. Wrap all of his pacifiers in a special box and deliver them to your dentist so another needy child can use them. (Of course, the pacifiers will be thrown out, but this way your child will feel like his “sacrifice” is helping someone else.)

Breaking a thumb sucking habit can me more challenging. In some cases, you can ask your dentist to explain the repercussions of continued sucking to your child. If that doesn’t work, you can buy a special mouth guard that helps them learn to stop.

Remember thumb and finger sucking, as well as pacifier use, is natural up to a certain point. Don’t make it into a big deal or over react. Stay vigilant and keep your dentist informed.