How (and Why!) to Break a Thumb-Sucking Habit

Many infants and children suck their thumbs for the first few years of life. Ultrasounds have even shown babies who suck their thumbs inside the womb. It’s a way for many young children to soothe themselves.  However, thumb-sucking isn’t a healthy habit to have in the long term, and should end early in a child’s life.  Luckily, most kids grow out of the habit on their own by the time they start kindergarten, but some do not. Read on for advice from Hines Little Smiles, your children’s dentist in Columbus, Ohio, about the dangers of thumb-sucking past a certain age, and how to prevent it.  

Effects of Thumb-Sucking

  • Sore Thumbs: The most obvious danger of thumb sucking is that an over sucked thumb is a sore thumb.  Habitual sucking can cause thumbs to callus, crack and bleed, and become infected.  
  • Teasing: Thumb-sucking is often seen as babyish, and other children may tease them for it. Thumb-sucking can be a major hindrance to your child’s ability to make friends and socialize with others their age.
  • Dental Problems: Habitual thumb-sucking can cause the front teeth to grow in at the wrong angle or to the wrong length, forming an overbite or a gap between the upper and lower teeth.
  • Skeletal Deformities: In extreme cases, thumb-sucking can cause skeletal deformities, such as a misaligned jaw.

How to Prevent Thumb-Sucking


  • Understand why your child sucks their thumb


Like almost everything your child does, there is a reason they suck their thumb, and understanding and compassion for that reason are essential to preserving your child’s well-being as you work on breaking the habit. Thumb sucking feels good to children and helps them soothe themselves when bored, frustrated, or upset. The most effective way to deal with the behavior is not to fight it, but to address the source of their upset and to replace thumb-sucking with better coping skills.


  • Try Not to Nag


The sad truth is that negative attention is still attention. If your child receives attention from you every time they suck on their thumb, they will want to do it more often to catch your eye. Instead, try to reward the positive behavior when you notice that they aren’t sucking their thumb.  


  • Practice Self-Awareness


Many habitual thumb-suckers don’t even realize when they are sucking their thumb.  Help your child recognize when they do suck their thumb by asking questions like “Do you know that you are sucking your thumb right now?”


  • Calm the Environment


As mentioned above, many children suck their thumb as a way to self-soothe.  Try to keep your home calm and peaceful.  If things become stressful, play calming music, take a walk with your child, or teach them how to take deep breaths. It may also be wise to give them another way to self-soothe, such as a blanket or stuffed animal.


  • Keep Them Busy


Many children suck their thumbs when they are bored and have nothing else to do.  Try to keep your child’s hands busy with enrichment activities that keep both hands moving.

Hines Little Smiles Can Help

For an assessment of your child’s dental health and for thumb-sucking advice that is tailored to your situation, contact our office for an appointment. Your child’s well-being is our highest priority.

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A dentist demonstrates to a child patient a large dental model for educational purposes during a consultation.