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Thumb Sucking: When should I Worry?

Updated: Dec 18, 2018

Thumb sucking occurs in about 80% of babies so don’t worry, you are far from alone! Thumb sucking is one of the things that we worry about as our babies grow and become toddlers.

Sucking is a natural reflex babies use to calm and settle themselves. 

Your child will probably give up thumb-sucking naturally by the time they are three or four years old, when they’ve found other ways to calm and comfort themselves.  However, some children may continue to suck their thumb at night or at stressful moments for much longer. 

It's normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, fingers, dummies, or even toys. It gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. But if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of about 5, when their permanent adult teeth begin to emerge, dental problems can occur.

Depending on how often, how hard and for how long a child is sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment.  One of two things may happen:

  • An Overbite.  When the front teeth protrude over the lower the teeth

  • An Open Bite. When the front upper and lower teeth don’t meet when biting.

  • This could result in in your child having difficulty eating properly or pronouncing words correctly.  The jaws can become misaligned and the roof of the mouth might become malformed.

Employing  the services of an Orthodontist, can help to correct the problem.  After examining your child's mouth, the Orthodontist may talk to you about one of the following treatment plans:

  • Braces: The most common way to correct an overbite of over bite. If your child is self-conscious about how he will look with metal braces, he can choose clear braces, which are less noticeable than their all-metal counterparts.

  • Appliances: Special appliances can be custom-made for your child's mouth; these include expanders, retainers and headgear.

  • Surgery:  This is usually only considered only as a last resort.

However, if you can encourage your child to stop their thumb-sucking habit early enough, you may avoid the need for any orthodontic procedure.

But how exactly do  you do that?!

  • Often, the best strategy is simply to ignore the behaviour. Children will figure out on their own when it is not acceptable from social situations and peer pressure.

  • Children must make the decision on their own to stop sucking their thumb or fingers before the habit will cease.

  • Parents and family members can offer encouragement and positive reinforcement.

  • Negative reinforcement (such as telling off or punishments) generally do not work; they make children defensive and drive them back to the habit.

  • Give praise or reward for time successfully avoiding the habit.

  • Gradually increase the time needed without sucking to achieve the reward.

  • For children who want to stop, cover the finger or thumb with a plaster as a reminder.

  • Take the thumb or finger out of the mouth after your child falls asleep.

  • To help older children break the habit, try and find out why your child is doing it: Once the issue is gone, your child often finds it is easier to give up sucking.

  • There are dental appliances your child can wear in the mouth to prevent sucking. These appliances are cemented to the upper teeth, sit on the roof of the mouth, and make thumb sucking harder and less pleasurable.  You will need to see an Orthodontist to have these specially fitted.

For more information on children’s oral health, Orthodontics, visit our website or contact the Practice on 01730 263180.

For further information or advice contact College Street Dental Centre in Petersfield, Hampshire on 01730 263180


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