Help, my child won't stop thumb sucking!

Posted Oct 1st, 2019 in General Information, Helpful Tips for Parents

Help, my child won't stop thumb sucking!

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex, that can help babies feel safe and happy, but persistent, vigorous thumb sucking can lead to a number of dental problems. Here are a few tips to help you break your child's thumb sucking habit.


Young children will often suck their thumb in order to soothe themselves, help them fall asleep, or just to relax. This is certainly not an unusual behaviour but it is something to keep an eye on since thumb sucking can lead to some damaging effects on the teeth and mouth.

When Should You Be Concerned

Passive thumb sucking, such as sleeping with a thumb in their mouth but not actively sucking, does not typically cause any damage.

However, if your child actively sucks their thumb then it's a good idea to keep an eye on the situation. Vigorous and persistent thumb sucking may lead to damaging effects such as: 

  • Front teeth protruding out from the jaw and mouth, called an overbite
  • Bottom teeth tipping inward toward the back of the mouth
  • Top and bottom teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed, called an open bite
  • Changes to the shape of the jaw, affecting the alignment of the teeth, may even lead to a lisp
  • Changes to the shape of the roof of the mouth, and sensitivity of the roof of the mouth

It's important to note that many of these effects can be resolved or even avoided completely if the child stops thumb sucking before the permanent teeth come in. 

Tips For Helping Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

Many children will stop sucking their thumb on their own by the time they are 4 years old, but if your child needs a little encouragement to end their love affair with their thumb here are a few tips to help you out.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Avoid punishing, embarrassing or nagging at your child. Keep reinforcement positive!

Praise your child when you notice that they are not sucking their thumb, and offer small rewards for their efforts.  You could try keeping a "thumbprint calendar" (dip your child's thumb in food dye and let them mark each thumb-free day) as a positive incentive to help your child break the habit.

Find a Stuffy to Love

Self-soothing is a common reason that children suck their thumb. Transitioning your child from thumb sucking to holding another reassuring item can help children to stop.

A soft small blanket, or stuffed animal are perfect to cuddle and can provide the temporary comfort that your child is seeking.

Keep Hands Busy

Thumb sucking may happen due to boredom, or ideal hands. Try keeping your child busy with crafts, playing games, colouring, or turning the pages of a book as a way to keep their hands busy and their thumb away from their mouth. 

If you're concerned about the effects of thumb sucking on your child's teeth, jaw or mouth contact us to book an appointment. Our Delta children's dentists can help.

Download the FREE Smile Town Children's Activity Book.

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