Thumb sucking is a completely normal and appropriate self-soothing habit for many young children.  Sometimes, we even catch glimpses of our babies sucking their thumb on ultrasound – what could be more natural? However, thumb sucking can distort a child’s bite and cause speech impediments if the habit goes on for too long!  When does thumb sucking stop being adorable and start being problematic?


Why does thumb sucking matter?

Pediatric dentists can often spot a thumb sucker from across the room.   How?   Thumb sucking can result in classic distortions to a child’s bite.   A child’s mouth is growing so quickly that growth will adapt around a thumb or be exaggerated by unbalanced sucking forces.


At what age should the habit stop?

The good news is that most children will stop thumb sucking on their own by about age 2 – 4 years old.   Many growth disturbances associated with thumb sucking will self-correct once the habit stops, especially if stopped at a young age.  Prolonged thumb sucking, especially past the age of 4 years old, can be associated with more permanent changes to a developing child’s bite. Our team of dentists will make recommendations on the best time to stop the habit based on your child’s individual growth and development.


How do we kick the habit?

When you are ready to help your child stop thumb sucking, the most important thing is to keep things positive.   Avoid smacking hands down, scolding children, or drawing attention to the thumb sucking habit. Instead, praise your child when they are not sucking their thumb, and celebrate their successes, no matter how small. Try initially setting smaller, more manageable goals such as eliminating thumb sucking in the car or at bedtime. Remember that kids suck their thumb when they are feeling anxious or upset. Try focusing on correcting the cause of these feelings, rather than the thumb sucking itself.


Many children are motivated by tracking their progress on a sticker chart, or by rewards for smaller successes (an ice cream cone, extra play time, a movie night.  Some kids benefit from a reminder, like a band-aid on the thumb, or putting socks over their hands at night time. If your child is struggling to kick the habit, our dentists may recommend an advanced technique such as a thumb guard, foul tasting nail polish, or a referral to an orthodontist for habit management.


If we can assist you further with this topic, make sure to speak with one of our pediatric dentists at your child’s next visit.   Or we are happy to discuss this with you in between visits.  Please give us a call at (262) 241-0400.


We will do our best to get back to you in a timely manner! You can always call the office for more immediate attention or for emergencies. 262-241-0400