Thumb Sucking: What You Can Do About Your Child’s Bad Habit

 In Child Dental Care


Thumb sucking is a common habit in young children that can have lasting and negative effects on their teeth and oral health. Because babies naturally want to suck on things, they often will put a finger or thumb in their mouth. As they grow a little older, this can develop into thumb sucking. The most common age for thumb sucking is between two and four. Because sucking is associated with security and comfort, children often turn to the habit in order to self-soothe. Unfortunately, the soothing associated with thumb sucking makes it a difficult habit to break.

Thumb sucking can become a dental issue and have negative effects on the alignment of your child’s teeth, development of the jaws and the roof of their mouth. Even if your child’s permanent teeth haven’t come in yet, thumb sucking should be deterred as it is a habit and hard to stop once started. If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, here are some steps you can take to help them stop.

Talk to Them

You should talk to your child about thumb sucking, and try to put it into terms they can understand. This way your child can feel involved in quitting the habit. If you can help your child understand that sucking their thumb is bad for them, it will be easier to help them stop, rather than if you are fighting with them about it.


Positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement. Praise your child if they go a period of time successfully without sucking their thumb. Some parents find it helpful to give their child a calendar and place a sticker over each day they get through without thumb sucking.


Because thumb sucking is associated with comfort and security, children are especially likely to turn to it if they feel anxious or afraid. If you can identify the situations in which your child turns to thumb sucking as a soothing mechanism, you may be able to offer alternatives such as a stuffed animal to hold, or simply a reassuring hug.

Create a Signal

Your child may feel embarrassed about their thumb sucking. Scolding or ridiculing them, especially in front of others, is not a good way to get the behaviour to stop, and will only create other issues. If you see your child sucking their thumb, you should offer gentle reminders to them to stop. You may want to create a nonverbal signal so that if you are with others, your child doesn’t feel ashamed when you tell them to stop.

If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, it’s best to speak to a dentist and they can help you determine which cessation methods are best for your child.


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