Thumb Sucking

With teddy bears, blankies, and naptime, a child sucking their thumb is one of the most comforting parts of being a child. In a recently published report, somewhere between 75% and 90+% of babies suck their thumbs, so it is likely there is (or was) a thumb sucker in your family.

In the vast majority of cases, there is no reason to worry. But it's important to pay attention to the habit to be sure it doesn't start to affect their oral health.


Most children start sucking their thumbs (or fingers) when they are very young. Some even begin when they are in the womb. Thumb or finger sucking is an automatic reflex for a newborn, and it actually serves practical purposes. We want our children to be calm, content, and secure; thumb sucking can provide these things. A baby usually relaxes when they suck their thumb. This is why most babies "thumb suck" when they fall asleep.

The American Dental Association recently pointed out that most children quit sucking their thumb or fingers around the three years old mark. They grow out of the habit because they don't feel a need for it anymore.


The first thing you should note is how your baby sucks their thumb. Passive sucking with the thumb or fingers gently sitting in the mouth has less chance of causing damage.

But if you see that the thumb sucking is aggressive and puts pressure on the teeth, it might create problems with the alignment of the teeth and even the shape of the face. This might cause a need for treatment by an orthodontist when they grow.

Keep an eye on the thumb sucking. If you think it might be affecting the child's oral health, please call us and arrange for a visit. We have seen thousands of children and will help you assess their behavior.


If you feel that your child should quit the habit, follow these steps:>

  1. Be positive and supportive; never punish them. Replace punishment and nagging with praise when they don't suck their thumb.
  2. Wrap a Band-Aid around the end of your child's thumb. Or alternately, tie a sock over their hand at nighttime. Help them understand that this is not a punishment but an aid in helping them remember not to suck their thumb.
  3. Create a progress chart from a calendar. Allow your child to put a sticker on the chart when they don't suck their thumb. Give them a reward when they meet a specific period of not sucking their thumb. Let them pick out the prize. You will find that the habit won't last long when the child has fun trying to stop it.
  4. Some children suck their thumb when they are anxious. If you suspect this is the case, your priority should be to identify why they are anxious and address that issue rather than working on the thumb sucking. Thumb sucking can be therapeutic in times of stress for children.
  5. Keep records of times your little one tends to suck their thumb. For instance, during a car ride or watching a movie, introduce fun and creative diversions at those times.
  6. Explain to the child why thumb sucking is not good for their teeth or the shape of their mouth. This could win them over and be a giant leap towards ending the habit.

Regardless of the methods you choose, constantly remember that your little one needs understanding and support while quitting thumb sucking. What might seem like a little issue to us grownups can be one of the toddler's biggest challenges.