The Thumb-Sucking Habit



Babies sucking their thumbs is a natural habit. It is a way for baby to find comfort, and soothe themselves. Usually, in the first few months of life this technique is used as a way to fall asleep, calm down or just as a feel good notion. During the first few months, thumb sucking is considered harmless to speech development and jaw alignment.

After a few years, for most infants, thumb sucking stops. It is often referred to as an exploratory stage and the habit is usually broken. For infants who do not break the thumb-sucking habit, dental and speech problems may begin to surface. The intensity of the sucking, and the tongues thrust is what deforms teeth and makes braces a necessity later on.

There is a difference between an infant who sucks their thumb, and a child who keeps the habit. The formation of their mouth and teeth differs.

As your child develops, the baby teeth fall out and the permanent teeth begin growing in. If your child still has the thumb-sucking habit beyond the age of 4, they have an increased chance of developing and over or under-bite (malocclusion), buck teeth, speech impediments such as slurring, infection or other dental issues.

Here are some tips on how you can help reduce the habit.

  • Do not tell your child “You cannot do this” – praise them when they are not doing it instead of criticizing them when they do it.
  • Try to limit thumb-sucking to specific times such as nap time or bed time
  • Empower your child by telling them you will be there to help when they are ready to stop
  • If your child has hurt themselves and resorts to to thumb-sucking for comfort, don’t prohibit the action as they are putting themselves in a comfort zone.
  • Try and come up with creative ways to help your child. For example; you can ask them if Dora the Explorer sucks her thumb. This will put the idea in their mind, and start the ‘ i don’t need to do this anymore’ process.