Why Your Child Needs to Kick the Thumb-Sucking Habit

added on: July 15, 2019

For new parents, thumb-sucking may not seem too bad. A baby with a thumb-sucking habit can mean fewer restless nights and random temper-tantrums. Unlike with a pacifier, babies who suck their thumbs never lose or break their built-in self-soothers. Night or day, a thumb-sucker yields the ability to calm themselves — no parents intervention required. It makes sense why some parents may never try to break their baby’s thumb-sucking habit: it makes life easier.

Or, at least, it seems like it does. In the short term, a thumb-sucking habit can be a lifesaver but in the long term, it leads to serious dental problems. Thumb-sucking beyond the age of two frequently has long-term effects on the occlusion (or bite). Luckily, there are many ways to help encourage your child to kick the habit before it causes serious damage.

Stanley Dentistry
Not a good habit, Prince Louis.

Why do kids form thumb-sucking habits?

Thumb-sucking (or sucking on a pacifier) is an instinctive self-soothing habit that babies frequently develop very early. Doctors call this habit non-nutritive sucking (NNS). A newborn baby sucking on their thumb is a good indication of healthy motor skills but they should begin to lose interest in thumb-sucking by two years old. If they don’t, parental intervention is required.

What are the effects of thumb-sucking?

In almost every case, NNS leads to the misalignment of teeth. Dental complications depend on the duration (years of habit), frequency (hours/day) and intensity (pressure applied). Complications may include increased anterior open bite, increased anterior overjet, maxillary incisors protrusion, retroclined mandibular incisors, posterior maxillary constriction and possibly class 2 skeletal deformity.

To most people, those terms don’t mean much which is why we like to show parents pictures of the results of thumb-sucking when they come in for an appointment. Although thumb-sucking doesn’t always seem like a big deal, it can lead to very serious dental and facial development problems that cost a lot of money to fix. Save yourself some cash and save your child from years of braces by getting them to kick the habit before they’re two.

How can I get my child to stop sucking their thumb?

Breaking a thumb-sucking habit is not easy. Kids who are four or five years old and still sucking their thumb have become dependent on their habit. They need it to soothe themselves and to go to bed. Taking that away is an admittedly difficult transition.

This is why we encourage parents to stop thumb-sucking habits when their children are young. Positive reinforcement is undoubtedly the best way to get your child to quit their habit. Give them a treat when they go the whole day without thumb-sucking. If they start sucking their thumb again, gently but firmly remind them to stop.

If encouragement doesn’t work, try non-dental physical therapy. These methods include using gloves/mittens or elbow/hand restraints to remove the ease-of-access to the thumb. Placing bandages or bad tasting substances on the thumb can also help.

You can find some useful products on our patient store including:

None of those have helped. What should I do?

If you’ve adamantly tried encouragement and non-dental physical therapy and your child is still sucking their thumb, it might be time to get a dental appliance. Dental appliances can help stop the habit and begin the long road to straightening the misaligned teeth.

thumb sucking appliance