Thumb Sucking: Breaking the Habit

Many young children use thumb sucking as an outlet for their stress and anxiety. Others find comfort in sucking their thumb or may use this behavior as a form of entertainment. According to WebMD, more than three-quarters of infants suck their fingers or thumb throughout the first year of life. As children go through toddlerhood and into the preschool years, this manner tends to diminish. By the time most children reach kindergarten, this habit has stopped altogether. However, this is not true for all children.

Effects of Prolonged Thumb Sucking

While allowing your older child to suck their thumb may seem harmless, there can be adverse long-term effects. Thumb sucking beyond the age of five or six years old can cause teeth to shift, resulting in an overbite or underbite. The roof of the mouth can become altered and the position of the jaw bone can change which could cause your child to develop a lisp. This habit can also increase your child’s risk of illness as germs are transferred from the hands to the mouth.

Bringing Up the Topic of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is usually not a habit that can be dropped overnight. It is important not to put too much pressure on your child to stop as this can cause excess stress. Start by having a conversation about their patterns. Explain to your child that thumb sucking can cause harm. Use a mirror to show your child how the teeth and mouth shape can change by the habit. Also tell your child that part of becoming a “big girl” or “big boy” involves stopping sucking their thumb.

Tips to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

  • Keep calm. Getting upset or yelling at your child for thumb sucking can be counterproductive. Your child will likely become upset too and may turn to their habit as a means of comfort. Children are more likely to listen when you get on their level and speak in a calm and reassuring voice.
  • Offer a substitute. If your child sucks his thumb when stressed or upset, consider an alternative source of comfort. Bring your child to the store and allow him to choose a stuffed animal, soft blanket, or special pillow that can be squeezed or hugged.
  • Give gentle reminders. If thumb sucking has become a habit, your child may need reminders to stop. When reminding your child to stop, use a calm voice and gentle words. Don’t make your child feel bad about their mistake but instead change the subject to something more uplifting.
  • Provide a diversion. Some children suck their thumb when they’re bored. Give your child something to do with his hands to help prevent thumb sucking. Encourage your child to color, toss a ball, play with play dough, or clap his hands to a song.
  • Teach coping skills. Help your child push past the urge to thumb suck by teaching him valuable coping skills. Every child is different and will respond to stimuli in different ways. Some kids find music to be soothing, while others enjoy exercise or applying a scented lotion to their hands.
  • Give rewards. Rewards can be highly motivational for small children and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Consider making a sticker chart and give your child a sticker each day that he doesn’t thumb suck. If he goes a week without sucking his thumb, let him pick a small toy or treat.
  • Chat with a dentist. Have a pediatric dentist in Clermont speak with your child about the impact of their habit on the teeth and mouth. Your child may listen more closely if the advice comes from a trusted professional. Your Clermont dental office may also fit your child with a mouth guard to prevent thumb sucking.

Schedule a Visit with a Clermont Dentist

If your child is still under five years old, the best thing to do is be patient. Although seeing your toddler suck his thumb can be frustrating, you may find that he stops the behavior on his own. If your child doesn’t stop sucking his thumb, contact Hancock Village Dental to discuss your concerns.


Hancock Village Dental

2560 E, State Rte 50

Suite 103

Clermont, FL 34711


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