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My child sucks his thumb. What can I do?

Many infants and young children find sucking on fingers, thumbs, pacifiers, and other items to be soothing, and it is a completely natural reflex. These children often find a sense of security from it and it can help them fall asleep.

Thumb- and finger-sucking that continues once permanent teeth have come in can cause problems. The level of dental issues it might cause depends on the intensity of the sucking. Children who vigorously suck may have more dental issues than those who are more passive about having a thumb or finger in their mouth.

In any case, it’s best that children stop the habit before the permanent front teeth start to come in. Usually children from ages two to four will cease the thumb-sucking on their own. Those who don’t usually will succumb to peer pressure once they start grade school.

There are those children who find it more difficult to break the habit. Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Use positive reinforcement. Don’t chastise children for thumb sucking. Praise them when they are not doing it instead. Reward them during particularly difficult times that they haven’t engaged in the habit.
  • Comfort children who might be doing it because they feel anxious or insecure.

If these gentle approaches don’t do the trick, you can have your child wear a sock at bedtime or put a bandage on the thumb to remind them of the habit.

If the habit persists, we might recommend a mouth appliance.