child sucking his thumb

Is Thumb Sucking Normal?

Team Pediatric Dentistry

Many parents are concerned about their children’s thumb sucking habits, so before we get started, let’s make one thing clear: thumb sucking is normal. It’s not something to be concerned about in young children. Babies often start sucking their thumbs while they’re still in the womb—it’s no wonder it’s such a hard habit to break! The action of sucking helps infants self-soothe and once established, the habit often extends into early childhood. Here are the facts about thumb sucking.

Why the Fuss About Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is normal, healthy, and human. So why do so many parents stress about it? Likely because there are a lot of misconceptions out there about the effects of thumb sucking on children’s teeth. People seem to think that thumb sucking habits doom children to crooked teeth and years of wearing braces. No one wants their children to need extensive orthodontic treatment or face teasing from other kids because of their teeth, so parents spend a lot of time worrying about thumb sucking and discouraging the habit in babies and toddlers.

Before you pull your baby’s thumb out of their mouth, rest assured that it’s very unlikely that a baby or even a toddler will change the way their adult teeth erupt with a thumb sucking habit. Thumb sucking provides babies with a sense of calm and security. It helps them fall asleep and comforts them when they’re upset. And it does all this without harming their teeth.

When Thumb Sucking Is a Problem

That’s not to say that thumb sucking is never a problem, though. Most children naturally drop the thumb sucking habit between the ages of two and four. This timing is perfect because it’s well before the permanent teeth begin to erupt. It’s when thumb sucking extends beyond this time that it becomes a problem and has the potential to start to influence the position of the permanent teeth in the mouth, the palate, and jaw development.

There’s an exception to this rule: if a child is an “aggressive thumbsucker,” their primary teeth can develop problems. If your child sucks on their thumb a bit, but mostly rests it in their mouth, it’s less likely to cause lasting damage than in children who vigorously suck on their thumbs. This type of thumb sucking should be addressed at a younger age.

How to Stop the Thumb Sucking Habit

If your child has reached the age of four and still sucks their thumb, it’s time to start working on stopping the habit. At this age, your child is old enough to be motivated by positive reinforcement and even rewards. Rather than punishing them for thumb sucking, praise them when they don’t suck their thumb. Nighttime thumb sucking can be avoided by putting a sock or mitten on the hands before bedtime. 

Should these methods fail, we can prescribe a bitter-tasting solution to help train your child not to suck their thumb or consider a habit appliance, an early orthodontic treatment used to prevent thumb and finger sucking. Both are highly effective when other attempts to break the habit haven’t been successful.

Learn More About Thumb Sucking and Teeth

If you’d like to discuss your child’s thumb sucking habit and how it impacts their teeth, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric dentists. We have four New Jersey locations including: Freehold 732-625-8080, North Brunswick 732-249-1010, Edison 732-549-3773, or Roselle 908-245-5556 .