Late Thumbsucking: Eliminating the Bad Habit (Updated for 2018)

baby chewing on hand


Alpharetta, GA – One of the first skills that your baby learns is the rooting reflex, or the urge to suck. Even in the womb, your child practiced sucking. The rooting reflex allows your baby to eat right away – it’s essential to survival. For that reason, it is perfectly normal that your baby sucks on his or her thumb or pacifier for comfort. In most cases sucking a thumb or pacifier is not an issue until your child starts getting permanent teeth.

Why is thumbsucking a problem for oral development?

Before the permanent teeth erupt, thumbsucking isn’t an issue. Once your child gets permanent teeth, you should help them kick this habit. Sucking the thumb can cause issues with the ideal tooth alignment and growth. The thumb can also change the roof of your child’s mouth, which can lead to speech problems. Pacifiers also cause issues, but most kids lose interest in pacifiers long before their permanent teeth erupt. According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumbsucking on their own between the ages of two and four. So if you have a young thumbsucker, try not to worry. It’s likely your child will stop on her own.

Is your child an aggressive thumbsucker?

The harder a child sucks their thumb the more likely they are to develop oral issues from the habit. If your child is an aggressive thumbsucker, call attention to the problem and encourage him or her to be gentle. Children who suck vigorously may cause problems to both their primary and adult dentition. If you’re concerned that your child’s thumbsucking is affecting their baby teeth, contact your pediatric dentist for support.

How can I help my kid stop sucking his thumb?

First, find the reason for your child’s thumbsucking. Sometimes kids suck their thumbs to lessen anxiety. If you feel your child might be coping with anxiety by thumbsucking, help them discover other tools to soothe themselves. For instance, your child may feel at ease with a soft teddy bear or blanket. Teach them to breathe deeply when they are feeling anxious. Comfort your child when they need it, and don’t brush their feelings aside. Give your child love and encouragement.

Explain why sucking their thumb is a problem. Your child is probably mature enough to understand and listen, even if the habit is hard to break. You may even want your child’s dentist to explain the longterm affects of thumbsucking. Some kids have the willpower to stop once they understand why it’s necessary.

Use lots of praise while your child is breaking the thumbsucking habit. Some children respond well to positive reinforcement. Tell your child you’re proud of them for trying to quit, and that you believe they are strong enough to do it. Tell your child they can decide to stop, and that it may be hard. Other kids may respond well to a reward system, such as daily stickers or treats on the days they resist thumbsucking.

In more extreme cases, kids may need other methods to help them stop the urge. A bitter tasting nail polish has helped some kids resist the urge to suck their thumbs. If the bitter-tasting nail polish doesn’t work, Dr. Nanna may suggest creating a habit appliance to help break your child’s habit. Dr. Nanna can provide more information as to whether your child is a candidate for their habit breaking appliance and provide more information as to how these appliances break your child’s habit.

At Polkdadot Pediatric Dentistry, we help parents and children understand the dangers of late thumbsucking. If you’re in Alpharetta and Johns Creek, Georgia, we would love to support your family through the challenge of thumbsucking and provide expert treatment to your child’s bright smile.