toddler sucking their thumb

Why Do Babies Suck Their Thumbs?

From the first few hours after birth, to adolescence to the time your child becomes an adult, parenthood is a whirlwind of experiences and emotions. For most parents, it starts with an adorable baby whose routine revolves around sleep and food. As they grow, however, kids develop tendencies. One of the most common is also one of the most peculiar: Why do babies suck their thumb? Let's take a look at the ins and outs of this oral habit.

Reasons for Thumb-Sucking

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, babies have a natural urge to suck their thumbs. Whether the mother nurses her child or feeds him or her formula from a bottle, this sucking motion comes naturally with the need to eat, up to a certain age. Making a sucking motion with their lips is one way babies signify that they're hungry. Thumb-sucking also provides infants with a feeling of security as they learn about their surroundings. As they become toddlers, some children will continue to suck their thumbs as a way of self-soothing, or to aid in falling asleep.

Dental Effects of Thumb-Sucking

A major concern for parents is if thumb-sucking will continue after permanent teeth start to appear. Proper mouth growth, teeth alignment and changes to the roof of the mouth can all experience effects from thumb-sucking. Nonetheless, the intensity of the habit is a primary factor in whether or not any oral issues will result. Kids who suck their thumbs in a passive manner, for example, are much less likely to develop mouth or tooth problems than those who suck their thumbs much more aggressively.

Should You Pay Attention?

The ADA advises parents to listen for a popping sound when a child retracts his thumb from the mouth. This noise is an indication of an aggressive thumb-sucker. Keep in mind that a pacifier can cause some of the same results, but to a lesser extent, as children tend not to suck a pacifier aggressively. Many children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four, according to Mayo Clinic, so you need not worry about the potential mouth and teeth issues if your little one falls into this category.

How to Break the Habit

If your child doesn't naturally stop thumb-sucking on his own, don't jump in just yet. If you don't make a big deal about it, your child will have less stress to cope with, and the problem may resolve itself. If it persists, consider employing these strategies:

  • Consult your dentist. A dental professional is a good source of information on any type of oral concern.
  • Offer encouragement. Providing plenty of positive reinforcement puts the notion of stopping in a positive light. Children feel good when receiving praise.
  • Identify it early. As stated, some children suck their thumbs as a reaction to stress. Pay close attention to your little one in an effort to identify thumb-sucking triggers. Then work with your child to resolve the issue he is stressed about.
If you're a new parent you've probably wondered: Why do babies suck their thumb? Rest assured it's a perfectly natural urge that quite often goes away over time. When your youngster does start to develop teeth, taking good care of them right away is essential. Use a product such as My First Colgate™ Infant & Toddler Toothpaste to keep those teeth strong no matter what pressures may challenge their growth.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

Mobile Top Image

Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.

Mobile Bottom Image