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Thumb Sucking Beyond Toddlerhood Can Be a Difficult Habit to Break.

Last updated 4 years ago

Is your child, or a child you know, a thumb sucker after age four? Many parents are not sure when is the appropriate time to intervene when prolonged thumb sucking occurs on a daily basis.

Thumb sucking is a normal and soothing behavior for babies, satisfying their natural sucking reflex, and providing supplemental sucking to the breast and/or bottle. Modern sonograms have even revealed babies sucking their thumbs before birth. Thumb sucking is also common in the toddler years, where children either suck their thumbs on their own, or while holding a special toy or security blanket. However, most children do stop this habit between the ages of two and four.

Thumb sucking isn’t usually a concern until age four or five, when the habit may start to affect the roof of the mouth (palate) or how the teeth line up. If your child is frequently thumb sucking at age four, or the thumb sucking is causing dental problems or embarrassment, talk to your child about breaking the habit. Prolonged sucking can alter the development of the jaw and affect the way the top and bottom teeth come together. If your child’s bite is altered from constant sucking, simply stopping the habit may result in the teeth self-correcting.

Park View's Point of View

At PVPD we recognize the difficulty in breaking the thumb sucking habit after toddlerhood. Here are some helpful suggestions that have proven successful for our patients:

Helpful Aids—A four year old who unconsciously sucks at night may benefit from wearing, “My Special Shirt”, which covers both hands and is worn to bed. This reminds them not to suck. Please ask us about this.

Positive Reinforcement—A child who sucks during the day, and is willing to try to stop the habit, may benefit from the positive reinforcement approach. Every time your child tries not to suck, he/she would receive a check or sticker on a calendar. When they get 10-20 checks, (you choose the amount based on how difficult this is for your child) they receive a small toy or special privilege. Remember, most children at this age are stating to feel embarrassed by this habit and really want to stop.

Gentle Reminders—As a support to the above approach, you may also want to offer gentle reminders when the child starts to suck their thumb. Never scold, criticize or ridicule your child, or embarrass them in front of others. Some parents even develop a secret hand signal or password to remind the child that they are engaging in their thumb sucking

Retainer Approach—When all else fails, we can make a retainer for a child (about 6 years old and above) that will help your child break their finger sucking habit. Your child would wear this until the habit is stopped, approximately 9 months.

Most importantly, be patient and try not to worry or over emphasize your child’s thumb sucking. Exhibiting worrisome behavior or giving it too much attention can sometimes delay the process.

As with all pediatric dental concerns, we are hear for you and are happy to assist and answer all your further questions.

Contact us at:

Park View Pediatric Dentistry


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All content and information are of an unofficial nature and are not intended to be interpreted as dental advice.
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