Thumb Sucking

What does a pediatrician do?

Sucking is a natural reflex in both human infants and primates. Infants have been shown to suck their thumbs even in the womb. A child will suck his thumb, fingers, a pacifier or another object for pleasure, comforting, out of boredom or to relax for sleep. Most children naturally stop thumbs sucking between the ages of 2 and 4, long before the baby teeth are lost and permanent teeth take their places.

If thumbsucking persists after permanent teeth have erupted, problems with tooth alignment, such as open bite, can occur. In open bite, the upper and lower front teeth flare outwards. When the child’s mouth is closed, the upper and lower jaws do not meet. Children with open bite often have a lisp, misaligned teeth, and temporomandibular joint disease.

To avoid open bite and other problems caused by thumb sucking and pacifier use, Dr. Dikansky recommends that parents eliminate bottles, pacifiers and thumbsucking as early as possible. If you are concerned about your child’s need to suck beyond the age of 3, please ask Dr. Dikansky about this at your child’s next appointment.

How to Break the Thumb Sucking Habit

The American Dental Association offers the following tips to encourage children to stop thumbsucking:

  • Avoid scolding. Instead, praise your child when he or she is not thumbsucking
  • Provide comfort to lessen the need to suck for comfort
  • If you think your child sucks his thumb when bored, try refocusing him at those moments.
  • Ask older children for their ideas to help them stop sucking
  • Put a bandage on the thumb to remind the child not to suck