Thumb Sucking Habits

Sucking is an innate and natural reflex in infants. Young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck to continue to feel secure and happy after their infancy stage.

Sucking is an innate and natural reflex in infants. Young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck to continue to feel secure and happy after their infancy stage. Finger digit or object sucking can be relaxing, induce sleep, or help a child feel secure during a difficult time. Sucking habits that persist beyond the age of 2-3 can cause problems with the proper jaw growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. Frequency, duration, and intensity of sucking will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their fingers or pacifiers passively in their mouths are less likely to have side effects than those who have vigorous sucking habits.

Usually, children naturally stop between the ages of two and four. Sibling or peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop. While others do not have a desire to stop no matter the influence of their parents, siblings, peers, or interventions. Pacifiers are not a substitute for thumb sucking as they can affect the teeth the same way as finger sucking. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. Dr. Espinosa, generally will recommend pacifier cessation before the age of 2, as most parents report it is easier to take away before that age. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult with Dr. Espinosa.

A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:

  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods. 
  • Dr. Espinosa can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue at their dental appointments.
  • When children want to stop, but subconsciously find themselves sucking, gentle verbal reminders, taping the preferred finger or putting a sock on the hand at night can help them achieve their goal.
  • If a child does not wish to cease their sucking habit, Dr. Espinosa will prepare the parents that early orthodontic therapy may be necessary.