Worried about Thumb Sucking? Easy Tips for Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

Thumb sucking is a very common and natural habit in babies and toddlers, and sometimes it begins before birth, so you can see a baby sucking their hands on a scan. Usually, a toddler will stop sucking their thumb naturally. However, this habit can cause jaw and tooth development problems, especially if it is still present when adult teeth erupt.


Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

In newborns, thumb sucking is a reflex that can help them feed. Some children will also suck other fingers, and finger sucking is a perfectly natural and comforting behaviour. It can help children to self-soothe when they feel anxious and can help them go to sleep.


How Do I Stop My Three-Month-Old from Sucking Her Thumb?

If you have a young baby who likes to suck their thumb, then there is no need to worry. Children generally stop sucking their thumbs between ages two and four. By the time children are eight, less than 5% will still suck their thumb. However, older children and even adults can still suck their thumbs, finding it a comforting behaviour that helps release psychological and physical tensions. Even a child who has largely stopped this behaviour may revert to sucking their thumb when they feel stressed.


Why Is Thumb Sucking Bad for Teeth?

The severity of the problems caused depends on how hard a child sucks their thumb and the angle of their thumb in the mouth. If a child is sucking their thumb quite hard and while their permanent or adult teeth start to erupt, it can cause several problems.


What are the Side Effects of Thumb Sucking?

As a child sucks their thumb, it rests directly behind the upper front teeth, and the action can pull the upper jaw outwards, elongating and narrowing the upper jaw. At the same time, the upper teeth can be pushed outwards, causing an overbite. As the thumb rests on the lower teeth, it can tip them backwards.

Thumb sucking can cause a gap between the child’s upper and lower teeth, so they do not bite together properly. Improper jaw development can affect speech, so that a child may develop a lisp. It can also affect the tongue’s position in the mouth, so it can no longer rest naturally in the upper palate just behind the upper teeth. Additionally, thumb or finger sucking can make these digits quite sore. The skin on these fingers and thumbs can become rough and chapped.


How to Stop a Child from Sucking Their Thumb?

There are many ways you can help your child stop sucking their thumb, and it’s important to remember that most quit by age four, especially when they start going to school and discover their peers have already quit. As a rule, positive reinforcement is the best approach, so make sure you offer lots of encouragement and support and gentle reminders when you see your child sucking their thumb or finger. If your child has managed to stop sucking their thumb for a while, tell them how grown-up they are and how proud you are of them. If your child sucks their thumb in public, you might want to have a special signal between you both so that you can remind them without embarrassing them.

Thumb sucking is a habit, so it may take time for your child to stop completely. Be patient and try to identify what is triggering this habit. For example, if you notice it occurring during times of stress or while your child is tired or sleepy, find other ways to replace this habit, perhaps by giving them a big hug or comforting them, or making sure they have their favourite soft toy to hug. You could also pretend their favourite teddy or toy wants to stop sucking their thumb, discussing how to help Teddy quit and how your child can lead by setting a good example for Teddy.

Another approach is to use a reward system, where you put together a chart with your child, and they receive stickers for each day they manage not to suck their thumb and receive a reward after a certain number of days. Get your child involved by deciding together on the reward.


What If My Child Is Struggling to Quit Thumb Sucking?

One option is to set boundaries or rules, telling your child they can only suck their thumb while in bed, so they know they can still do it but will hopefully manage to stop over time. Another possibility is to use a bitter-tasting nail polish that is commonly used to help people stop biting their nails. You can buy a flexible brace that fits over your child’s elbow, preventing them from bending their arm to reach their mouth, which can be helpful if they have a severe thumb-sucking habit. However, remember we are also here to help.


How We Can Help Your Child Quit Thumb Sucking

Our dental practice is very child friendly, and we love talking to and helping young children. We can gently explain to your child why it’s important for them to stop sucking their thumb and discuss how they will take care of their teeth. Sometimes it can be helpful for a child to hear this advice from someone other than their parent! When thumb sucking is present in older teens and adults, counselling can be helpful.


Thumb Guard

We can supply a dental device called a thumb guard in Australia or a thumb sucking guard. The device, also sometimes called a crib, is a special type of brace that sits behind the upper teeth on the roof of the mouth, preventing a child from sucking their thumb comfortably. It usually remains in place for up to a year and can be very effective in severe cases of thumb sucking.


What if Thumb Sucking Has Already Affected My Child’s Teeth and Jaws?

We can assess the development of your child’s teeth and jaws to identify any problems that might have been caused by a thumb or finger sucking habit. While your child’s jaws are still developing, the bones are still quite soft and malleable, so it is possible to guide jaw growth and correct any problems caused by thumb sucking. Special orthodontic devices can help widen the upper palate, reshaping the jawbone, so the teeth and jaws develop in the proper alignment.

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At Tandara Dental Centre in Gosnells, we’re happy to discuss all of your care options with you, so that you can choose the one that’s best for your smile. Contact us today to schedule!