Adult Thumb Sucking: How to Break the Habit

Do you remember when you stopped sucking your thumb? As Johns Hopkins Medicine points out, thumb sucking is a common childhood habit that starts early. Nearly nine out of 10 babies start to suck on their thumb or another part of their hands just hours after birth. For some people, the behavior continues through adulthood.

While thumb sucking isn't an issue in babies or young children, adult thumb sucking may be embarrassing and in some cases may pose oral health problems. Whether you're an adult who sucks their thumb or know someone who does, here's what you need to know about the habit and how to address it.

Why Do People Suck Their Thumbs?

Thumb sucking in infants and young children is a natural impulse. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that sucking on thumbs, fingers or pacifiers may help calm babies and young children because it makes them feel secure and safe.

Thumb sucking is so common in early childhood that the National Institutes of Health advises parents not to feel too concerned about a young child who sucks their thumb. Usually, children stop thumb sucking on their own around the age of 3 or 4. Kids who continue sucking their thumbs might give up the habit when they start school and meet peers who have stopped.

Thumb Sucking in Adults

While most children outgrow or stop thumb sucking by the age of 5, some people continue into adulthood. There's little research or data on adult thumb sucking, notes Psychology Today. This could be because people may hide the habit when they reach a certain age. Adults who suck their thumbs might do so in the privacy of their homes rather than when they are out and about due to fear of social judgment. In some cases, adult thumb sucking may be considered a symptom of a disorder.

Thumb sucking in children doesn't usually cause major dental problems so long as they still have their baby teeth. Issues arise when individuals suck their thumb after their permanent teeth have developed. According to the ADA, thumb sucking may interfere with the alignment of the permanent teeth and affect the roof of the mouth. If a person has misaligned their teeth due to thumb sucking, they may need to seek orthodontic treatment.

How to Stop Sucking Your Thumb

While there are a number of resources on helping a child break a thumb sucking habit, there are fewer aimed at adults who suck their thumbs. Some adults who have talked about their former habit, such as a woman describing her experience in Entrepreneur, state that they were able to give it up cold turkey. However, dealing with a thumb sucking habit is a personal decision, and you should feel empowered to handle the situation in a way that works for you.

If you are looking to make a change, one method of training yourself to stop sucking your thumb is to cover your thumb. For example, you can put a stocking or glove over your thumb so that when you go to put your thumb in your mouth, the glove or stocking gets in the way and reminds you that you are trying to break your habit.

If you're concerned that sucking your thumb has affected your teeth, your dentist can recommend proper corrective treatments. In cases where thumb sucking is connected to anxiety or another condition, working with a therapist may help you pinpoint what drives the habit and develop a plan that fits your individual needs and concerns.

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.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.