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What Every Parent Should Know About Their Thumb Sucker

Toddlers and young children often display some pretty cute behavior that, unfortunately, isn’t quite as cute once they are older.

  • Smearing dinner all over their face.
  • Wearing any article of clothing backwards.
  • Repeating everything Mommy and Daddy say.
  • Sucking their thumbs.

We here at Montgomery Dentistry love a messy-faced, backwards-pants-wearing, thumb-sucking parrot of a preschooler just as much as the next guy, but we also are concerned about the ramifications of one of those particular “cute” habits:  thumb sucking.

If you are a parent of a thumb sucker, then you probably noticed the habit forming well before the toddler and preschool years.  Most children who suck their thumb began to do so as an infant, as babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes.

Thumb sucking is so extraordinarily soothing to babies that this behavior can easily develop into a habit, unfortunately a habit that is very difficult to break.

Once a child has become a thumb sucker by trade, the action becomes a source of anxiety relief and a way to cope with exhaustion or boredom.  Children will typically hold on to a treasured object while they suck their thumbs.

Typically, children will stop sucking their thumb on their own, either by default or peer pressure.  However, if your child continues to suck his or her thumb after the age of five, it is time to intervene.  Thumb sucking after age five can carry long-term consequences to the teeth, palate, and bite.

The first thing to look for is the manner in which your child sucks their thumb.  If it is a passive action, the thumb gently resting inside the mouth, then there is not much cause for concern.  But if he is aggressively sucking his thumb (after age five), the habit may cause damage to tooth alignment and proper mouth growth.

Years and years of aggressive thumb sucking can affect both the teeth and the shape of the face, and may even lead to the need for future orthodontic treatment.

So the best thing to do is to be proactive with your child.

If they are an older, aggressive, habitual thumb sucker, here are some ideas for addressing the problem:

  • Reward System:  Hang up a calendar.  For every day that he does not suck his thumb, put a sticker on the calendar.  After a month, if the calendar is filled up, reward your child with a big gift.
  • Get us involved:  We would be happy to make phone calls to encourage your child to break the habit.  Also feel free to bring your child to the office for some encouragement.
  • ByeBye “Lovey”:  If your child associates his treasured item with thumb sucking, then it is time to put the lovey away.  This is an emotional thing to have to do, but it may save years of expensive dental work.
  • Thumb Reminder Medicine:  Some parents coat their children’s thumbs with a foul tasting “medicine.”  It is totally safe and has had great results with many children.

Here at Montgomery Dentistry, the future of your precious little one’s teeth and bite is important to us!   Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding thumb sucking…we would be more than happy to help!

“Thumb Sucking” Photo by Steve Winton Used with permission following the Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Photo Credit: Steve Winton

About the Author

  • Dr. Amy Morrison Anderson

    Dr. Amy Morrison Anderson

    Dr. Amy Morrison Anderson joined our practice in July 2005. She is a lifelong resident of Montgomery, and a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Dentistry.

    She is a member of the American Dental Association, the Alabama Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry.

    Dr. Anderson most enjoys doing veneers. “The reward of seeing my patients’ self-confidence and self-esteem boosted by a beautiful smile is immeasurable.”

    Brandon, her husband, is also a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School and Auburn University. They have one daughter, Bailey Elizabeth, and twin sons, Caden and Cole.

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