Finger and Thumb Sucking

Dental Health

Finger and Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Habits

Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant – it allows them to know how to feed as soon as they are born! It is soothing and can often help babies and children fall asleep. It can be a very healthy habit for kids early on. For my peer group, the best pacifier was hotly contested and a point of conversation!

Many children stop pacifier and thumb sucking habits on their own between the ages of two and four. If your child has a prolonged thumb, finger and pacifier sucking habit – it can be very difficult to stop! I recommend stopping these habits by the age of 4-5 at the latest. Bite changes are usually reversible if the habit is stopped before the baby teeth are lost.

What do bite changes from habits look like?

  • top and bottom front teeth don’t meet (openbite)
  • top teeth are too far forward compared to bottom teeth (overjet)
  • narrow upper arch – may even be narrower than the lower arch (crossbite)

Tongues love to fill in spaces that thumbs made, so it is possible that if the habit is prolonged, your child’s tongue will rest more forwards than usual – called a tongue thrust. Tongues are such strong muscles that they can maintain the incorrect bites that the thumb sucking habit created.

What can I do to help my child stop sucking?

The sooner you can stop the habit, the better. My daughter sucked on a pacifier all day every day until she was almost 3. We were expecting my son in 2 months, so we decided to try stopping her habit. She decorated a big brown envelope and put ALL of her pacifiers in it. We walked together to the mailbox and she put it in the mailbox. It was meaningful and final. And in the end – no big deal! We were so afraid that she would have a few terrible nights, but she never looked back. She asked for her pacifier at bedtime for a day or two, and that was the end of it!

It is often harder with finger and thumb sucking.

Your child truly needs to decide that they are ready to stop, and needs your support throughout the quitting process.

  • Give positive support – praise when they don’t suck (even if it is just for a few minutes), rather than punishing when they do suck.
  • Start with easier times of the day – give a sticker or reward on a calendar for every day that they don’t suck during the afternoon awake hours. Once your child makes it through a week without daytime sucking, he gets to choose a prize or activity. Once they have quit sucking during the day for a few weeks, start working on nighttime.
  • Nighttime can be the hardest – you can try a band-aid on his thumb or a sock over his hand at night. Let him know that this is not a punishment, just a way to help him remember to avoid sucking.
  • After a month of no sucking – the habit is likely over. It takes 9 months to be sure that the habit is completely gone. If your child is actively participating in stopping the habit (through rewards and keeping track), he will stay more motivated!
  • Keep an eye out for the most challenging times – like car rides and tv – and keep your child extra busy during those times.
  • If your child is old enough to understand, explain what might happen to his teeth is he keeps sucking.

Support your child throughout the process! If you feel that your child needs something more to stop, see a dentist. Dentists and orthodontists can provide added support. If your child is still sucking around age 7-8, an orthodontist might recommend an appliance to help break the habit and to prevent more severe bite problems.

Good luck!

The general information provided on the Website is for informational purposes and is not medical advice.

Do NOT use this Website for medical emergencies.

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Andrea Heckler, DMD, MSc (Ortho), FRCD(C)

About Andrea Heckler, DMD, MSc (Ortho), FRCD(C)

Dr. Andrea Heckler is an Orthodontist with a private practice in the Annex as well as St. Clair/Dufferin area. She treats children, teens and adults of all ages!

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