Some children have a favorite blanket or a favorite lovey, and some children seek out their own thumb for comfort. In fact, according to a recent report, as many as three quarters of American children suck their thumbs, so if your little one is a thumb sucker, you’re not alone.

Most thumb suckers will establish themselves as such from a very young age, and it makes sense: Sucking is a natural reflex, provides a sense of security and contentment, and can help him relax to sleep. It’s totally normal, and for most, this habit will be a thing of the past by the ages of 2–4.

However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower his chances of continuing to suck his thumb). If this is your child, it may be time to take action to break the habit for fear it could negatively impact his oral health.

How can I tell that my child’s thumb sucking has gone on too long?

Answer this question: How does your child suck his thumb? A passive sucker, one who simply rests his thumb inside his mouth, is going to do less damage than a more aggressive thumb sucker. Aggressive thumb sucking places undue pressure on the mouth and teeth and may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child’s thumb-sucking may be affecting his oral health give us a call. We’ll help assess the situation, and provide you with tips and resources to help him or her quit.

A few things to consider:

  • Be supportive and positive. Don’t punish him for thumb sucking; instead, praise him when he doesn’t suck.
  • Put a bandage on his thumb or a sock over his hand at night. This isn’t because he’s been bad, just a helpful reminder to avoid sucking.
  • Some children will suck their thumb when they feel anxious. It may be time to take steps to alleviate his anxiety instead of focusing solely on the sucking.
  • Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
  • Explain clearly what might happen to his teeth if he keeps sucking his thumb.