Grand Rapids Kids Dentist

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and naptime, thumb sucking can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. While it’s not necessarily a cause for worry, it is important to pay attention to your child's habits, since certain behaviors have the potential to affect your child’s oral health. Most children begin sucking their thumb or finger from a very young age, or may even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant and it serves as a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can be very relaxing, which is why many children suck as they fall asleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb sucking on their own between 2 and 4 years old by simply outgrowing it. However, some children continue sucking beyond preschool. If your child is still sucking when his permanent teeth start to erupt, you will want to actively work on breaking the habit. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and jaws including the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

  1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb sucking, give praise when he doesn't suck. This will encourage him to stick with it!
  2. If your child is ready, you can try “reminders” such as a bandage or tape on the finger or thumb or a sock over the hands during sleep. Let him know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help him remember to avoid sucking.
  3. Use a calendar as a reward chart and let him put a sticker up every day that he doesn't suck his thumb. If he makes it through a week without sucking, he gets to choose a small prize. When he has filled up a whole month, reward him with something great and by then the habit should be over. Making your child an active participant in the treatment will increase his enthusiasm to break the habit.
  4. If you notice your child sucking when he's anxious, work on easing his anxiety rather than focusing on the habit.
  5. Take note of the times your child tends to suck, such as watching TV or going on long rides in the car and create diversions during these occasions.
  6. Explain clearly and show examples of what might happen to the teeth if your child continues the thumb or finger sucking.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the habit. If your child is emotionally ready and they just can’t stop, make a visit to discuss habit appliance options with Dr. Meggan.

David Decides About Thumbsucking - A Story for Children, a Guide for Parents
by Susan Heitler PHD