Tips to Break Thumb-Suckers

You may think there’s no end to your child’s thumb-sucking but the American Dental Association has some tips for how to break the natural habit.

Sucking is a natural reflex for children and can be soothing and relaxing. Sucking on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world.

But after the permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and cause changes in the roof of the mouth. The intensity of the dental problems that can arise depends on the intensity of the sucking.

Usually, children stop sucking their thumbs between 2 and 4 years old but should permanently stop by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Pacifiers can also cause dental problems but is often an easier habit to break.

The ADA offers the following tips for how to break the thumb-sucking habit:

• Praise children for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they are.
• Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
• For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
• Your dentist can offer encouragement to a child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
• If the above tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.

For these tips and more oral health resources, visit “”, click on the public resources tab, then oral health topics.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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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