Identifying and Stopping Thumb Sucking

For a great number of children, thumb sucking or finger sucking are general habits at a young age. Nearly a third of all children will suck on their thumbs or fingers within the first year of their life, and while this may seem harmless, it’s actually not.

At Southridge Pediatric Dentistry, we’re here to help. Our pediatric dental services include identifying the triggers of thumb sucking and working with parents to help rid children of this practice. Why is thumb sucking such a big deal, and how can you stop it? Here are some tips.

Problems With Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking has the potential to cause several developmental issues within a child’s mouth. It may lead to an open bite, a condition where the top and bottom teeth don’t touch while biting or chewing. Thumb sucking may also lead to narrowing or distortion of the mouth palate, leading to speech issues and negative bite patterns if not addressed early enough.

What Causes It?

There are several possible causes of thumb sucking in children. Kids mostly do it as an unconscious comfort method when they’re uncomfortable or stressed, meaning you may see it when they’re hungry, tired or sad. They may also do so when they’re bored or anxious.

Tips for Stopping It

If your child is still sucking his or her thumb by age four, you need to take steps to wean them out of this to ensure their mouth development isn’t stunted. Here are some basic tips:

  • Identifying triggers: Most children will develop a few specific triggers that lead to thumb sucking. Observe them carefully and identify these triggers as best you can, then use positive reinforcement to get them away from it.
  • The whole family: You can’t be next to your child 24 hours a day, so make sure your family is on board as well. Make sure siblings and any other relatives who regularly see the child are on the same page and use the same language and strategies.
  • Intervening: When your child is actively sucking their thumb, intervene and explain to them that this is a bad habit. If they understand that stopping is related to their health, this often helps.
  • Diversion: In some cases, children can be distracted away from thumb sucking. Try diverting their attention when you note them sucking ont heir thumb.
  • Covering thumbs: It may seem crude, but this simple method is very effective. Wrapping thumbs in Band-Aids or cloth will make them less attractive to children and will ensure they realize quickly what they’re doing and remember it’s a negative habit to avoid.

For more on preventing thumb sucking, or to learn about any of our other pediatric dental services, speak to the staff at Southridge Pediatric Dentistry today.