Julie M. Russo D.M.D.

Diplomate of the American
Board of Pediatric Dentistry

Habits

Child thumbsucking

Thumb sucking is natural and a normal reflex utilized by infants to soothe themselves. They generally lose interest once they develop other coping skills. Ideally, children should stop thumb sucking by the age of 4.

Pacifiers are not a substitute for thumb sucking. They, too, can affect the teeth in the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, you can control and modify the pacifier easier than the thumb or finger habit.

How hard a child actually sucks on their fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems will result. Some children rest their thumbs passively in their mouths, making them less likely to have problems than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Up until the age of 3, children are too young to actively try to get them to stop. See if they will stop on their own with positive reinforcement. Focus only on daytime thumb sucking first.

  • Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or bored. Try to determine the cause and focus on redirecting the child.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during times they have done it in the past (watching TV, riding in the car, etc).
  • Dr. Russo and her staff can encourage your child to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.

Once your child has stopped daytime sucking, then you can work on nighttime. First, your child needs to know they can stop at night, be positive. These suggestions only work if they have completely stopped daytime sucking and want to quit at night, too.

  • The use of a "batters glove" with Velcro on the sucking hand while they sleep helps to train their subconscious to stop the habit.
  • A sock on the preferred hand taped around the wrist to keep them from removing during the night.
  • An ace bandage placed around the elbow on the arm that is favored. You place it loosely to trigger the subconscious as it will be more difficult to bend that arm to put the thumb in the mouth.