Thumb sucking

January 31, 2015

Thumb sucking
Baby sucking his thumb

Sucking is a natural reflex for infants as it makes breastfeeding possible. Other than nutrition, it also provides comfort and soothes the child naturally. As infants develop, they begin to find other means of seeking comfort and soon outgrow digit sucking. This withdrawal should normally begin about the age of two and most children give it up entirely by the age of four. However, for some this habit seems to find a life of its own and the child is unable to break it. In fact, it becomes such a compulsive habit that most of the time the child is not even aware of the thumb reaching the mouth.


What is the effect of digit sucking?

There are several obvious and hidden consequences of this habit. However, it is important to remember that genetics are also responsible for dental problems. Thumb sucking effects are not the same for all children.

  1. It may be affected by how long the child sucks his thumb. Generally speaking, it is likely to have an adverse effect if it lasts more than 4 hours per day.
  2. The amount of force used in sucking is as important as duration.
  3. The placement of the thumb in the mouth also dictates the kind of dental problem that will develop.

Dental problems:

1. The upper front teeth move outwards as well as tilting upwards. In some instances, the lower front teeth may be pushed back.

2. Open bite, in which there is a gap when the upper and lower teeth come together.

3. Posterior crossbite in which the molars may shift from their desirable position.

Additional problems

Besides its effect on the teeth and jaw bones, thumb sucking also leads to skin infections in the thumb. Children who continue digit sucking in school often face teasing from other children and may develop self esteem issues.



Mild sucking does not have any long term implications for baby teeth but as permanent teeth begin to erupt, continued sucking needs to be checked. However, as this habit offers familiar comfort to the child, one needs to take thumb sucking psychology into account before attempting any intervention. In fact, any attempt should begin only after the age of 4.

A point to remember is that the child finds himself helpless. Putting too much pressure may result in a child who is guilt ridden. In fact the key is not to create a conflict. Thumb sucking therapy, like therapies for all addictions work better if the child is involved and motivated in his treatment.

Several home remedies, like making it difficult for the child to access his thumb in sleep with the help of long sleeved night shirt or applying chemicals on the thumb, can be used. One can also take the help of a dentist who can explain the impact it is going to have on the child’s teeth. But sometimes these efforts are not enough. In such cases the dentist can fix dental appliances that help to break the habit. Among the various options available to parents are palatal cribs that may be removable or fixed, oral screens, hay rake and blue grass appliance.


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