Thumb-sucking or finger-sucking is a habit that occurs with many infants. Your child will usually give it up naturally by the age of four. If the sucking habit continues beyond the time when permanent teeth start to erupt, your child may develop crooked teeth and a malformed palate (roof of the mouth). This results from pressure applied by the thumb on the teeth and roof of the mouth. The severity of the problem depends on frequency, intensity, duration and also the position in which the thumb is placed in the mouth. The relationship between the upper and lower jaws may also be affected. Speech defects can occur from misaligned teeth resulting from thumb-sucking and/or finger-sucking.
- The best prevention is to get your newborn to take up the pacifier instead of thumb-sucking or finger-sucking. Although prolonged use of the pacifier can lead to similar problems, it is not attached to the child and can be removed.
- Children should be helped to give up the habit before they enter school to prevent teasing.
- Timing of treatment is important. Your child should be willing to give up thumb-sucking or finger-sucking. If your child is not willing to stop, therapy is not usually indicated. Pressure you apply to stop may only lead to resistance and lack of cooperation. Try again later.
- Give your child attention and understanding and gently discourage the habit. Reminders such as a band-aid on the thumb can help.
- Offer rewards (star on chart, dimes, extra story) for days when your child is successful. Praise your child when successful.
After daytime sucking is controlled:
- Help your child to give up the sucking habit during sleep. This is usually an involuntary process and a glove, sock, or thumb/finger guard can help stop the habit.
- Take one step at a time. Encourage your child not to suck during one daytime activity, like story time or television watching. Gradually add another activity until daytime sucking is controlled.
- If these considerations are not successful, let us know. By the time your child's permanent teeth begin to erupt (at around 6 years of age), it should be brought to their attention. We may suggest other options such as a reminder bar that is placed in the upper arch.