Addressing Thumb Sucking Habits in Children

A cute young baby sucking his thumb while laying in a blanket

At Novato Children's Dentistry, we recognize that thumb sucking is a natural reflex for children. It can serve as a source of comfort and help them to explore their world. However, prolonged thumb sucking beyond the age of two to three can lead to oral health issues, including problems with proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth, and changes in the roof of the mouth.

What To Know As A Parent/Guardian

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 and Dr. DeSimini generally will recommend pacifier cessation before the age of 2. Most parents report it is easier to take the pacifier away before that age and the body has a better chance of correcting any misalignments and poor jaw shapes. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult with our team.

The Impact of Thumb Sucking on Oral Health

While thumb sucking is a normal activity for babies and toddlers, it's important for parents to monitor and manage this habit before it affects their child's oral development. Persistent thumb sucking can result in:

  • Misaligned teeth, leading to bite problems.
  • Changes in the shape of the jaw.
  • Speech impediments.
  • Alterations to the roof of the mouth.

A Few Suggestions To Help Your Child Get Through Thumb Sucking:

  1. Understand Feelings of Insecurity: Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: Focus on positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Praise your child for not sucking their thumb and provide small rewards for progress. Reward charts provide visual tracking which helps the child see their progress and be more involved with the process. 
  3. Identify Triggers: Understand the situations or feelings that prompt your child to suck their thumb. Addressing these triggers can help reduce their need for thumb sucking.
  4. Offer Alternatives: Provide comfort through other means, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, especially during times they are likely to suck their thumb. 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.
  5. Set Goals: Create a goal chart to track your child's progress. This visual aid can motivate them to stop the habit.
  6. Contact Your Pediatric Dentist: If home strategies are not effective, our doctors can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue at each of their dental appointments. If a child does not wish to cease their sucking habit, Dr. Espinosa or Dr. DeSimini will prepare the parents that early orthodontic therapy may be necessary. 

Professional Support at Novato Children's Dentistry

For some children, overcoming thumb sucking requires additional support. At Novato Children's Dentistry, we offer guidance and solutions for managing thumb sucking habits, including:

  • Referrals for Custom Oral Appliances that prevent thumb sucking
  • Behavioral techniques and strategies tailored to your child
  • Regular check-ups to monitor the impact on your child's oral health

Our team is dedicated to supporting your family through this phase of your child's development, ensuring they grow up with a healthy, beautiful smile.

Schedule a Consultation

If you're concerned about your child's thumb sucking habit and its impact on their oral health, Novato Children's Dentistry is here to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation. We'll work with you and your child to create a personalized plan to address the habit and protect your child's oral development.