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Does My Child Need a Thumb-Sucking Guard?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you’re looking for a thumb guard for your little thumb sucker, you've come to the right place. Many parents have difficulty navigating if and when thumb sucking is a problem and finding the right solution. We're here to help you understand what oral health conditions are associated with thumb sucking, when to worry about them, and how a thumb-sucking guard can help.

Thumb Sucking and Guards

Children self-soothe many ways, including hugging stuffed animals, carrying blankets, and sucking their thumb. If your child has grown fond of thumb sucking, there is usually no cause for concern as it’s totally healthy and typical behavior in most cases.

This behavior becomes an issue when they do it too vigorously or past a certain age, as doing so can contribute to dental problems. Thumb sucking normally shouldn’t present a problem for your child’s oral health until around when their permanent (adult) teeth start to come in, according to the American Dental Association.

A guard for thumb sucking helps prevent these problems by blocking your child from sucking on their thumb (there are also versions for other fingers). They typically look like a small split that wraps around your child’s wrist and extends up around their thumb and are either made of fabric or plastic. Another variety doesn’t cover your child’s thumb but instead limits their elbow mobility, so they cannot fully bend their hand towards their mouth.

When Should I Use a Guard?

Most children will stop this behavior on their own between the ages of two and four or around when their permanent teeth start to come in, according to the American Dental Association. Your child may not require treatment for thumb sucking if they stop before their permanent (adult) teeth come in, and you don't notice any adverse side-effects.

There is no exact indication for when your child’s thumb sucking presents a problem that requires treatment that you can determine on your own. If you believe your child’s oral health or speech is affected by their thumb sucking, it’s best to consult your child’s dental professional for expert diagnosis and treatment advice.

Even though thumb sucking may not yet be a problem for your child, the longer they have the habit, the harder it will be to overcome. With this in mind, it may be smart to encourage them to stop the behavior before it contributes to oral problems.

Some steps you can take before using a thumb-sucking guard may include:

  • Reward them for not sucking their thumb or using a healthier method to self-soothe, like holding a stuffed animal or using a stress ball.
  • Make a chart to track their behavior with stickers and reward them when they reach a certain number.
  • Gently remind them not to suck their thumb and help them manage or reduce their stress.
  • Avoid shaming, criticizing, or punishing your child for sucking their thumb. This can contribute to stress and increase their self-soothing behavior.
  • Try putting a sock or bandage on their thumb as a reminder to not suck on it.

We recommend trying to reinforce your child’s good behavior and speaking with your child's medical or dental professional to ensure their thumb sucking is a problem before purchasing a guard.

Signs of Damage

Oral health issues and speech problems are the potential adverse side-effects of thumb sucking to be on the lookout for in your child. Remember that these generally only occur in cases where the behavior is vigorous or continues until around the age of five.

Your child sucking their thumb vigorously or past the age of five may contribute to:

If your child displays any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult their dental or medical professional to confirm that thumb sucking is a contributing factor or underlying cause. The sooner you confront potential issues, the more likely you are to prevent associated problems from occurring.

Introducing a Guard

When it comes to thumb sucking (or introducing a baby thumb guard or thumb guard for toddlers), reinforcement is your best bet. We recommend praising and rewarding positive behaviors and using gentle encouragement rather than shaming or punishing behaviors you want your child to grow out of. Increasing their anxiety or discomfort will only contribute to their desire to self-soothe with their favorite go-to.

When showing your child their guard for the first time, introduce it in a positive light rather than as a punishment for bad behavior. Try to make it into a fun activity, offer praise, and reward them for wearing it, so they form positive associations with wearing the guard.

It’s important to keep in mind that using a thumb guard will make it difficult for your child to use their hands and perform tasks independently, especially if they require a guard for both hands.

Guards are not a replacement for positive reinforcement and other parenting techniques, but they can be a helpful addition to make your job a little bit easier. Be sure to utilize your child’s dental and medical professions for their expert insight to ensure that their thumb sucking is a problem before taking drastic steps or worrying too much. You’ve made a great step towards understanding what contributes to thumb sucking and when guards are appropriate for your child.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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