Thumb Sucking: Effects and Ways to Stop It

baby thumb sucking during sleep

As your child grows, they achieve different milestones and come across certain habits. One of which is exploring their world and thumb sucking.

Sucking their thumb soon turns into a regular habit that soothes their teeth and teething pain.

It makes them happy and gives them a sense of safety.

This activity is totally normal and many children may leave it on their own.

However, if it becomes persistent, then it is best to stop your child from doing it consistently.

In this article, let’s find out that what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to your child sucking their thumb.

girl thumb sucking to comfort herself

What is Thumb Sucking?

Your child will begin either sucking their thumb or fingers as soon as they are born.

This is a natural reflex action that helps them cope with anxiety.

By sucking they feel a sense of security, happiness and comfort as they developed this habit back in the womb.

They will continue this normally till the age of 4 however, they may stop even before that.

Though, they may relapse and start it again in stressful situations or to soothe themselves before bed.

It also has a few advantages.

Children who do use a pacifier or suck their thumb report fewer hospitalization and it also optimizes the heartbeat of a baby.

Hence, this action is completely normal as long as children have their baby teeth.

They will explore their body, suck their fingers, thumbs and get relieved by it.

When they start to show signs of permanent teeth they stop sucking themselves.

You should intervene if they do not stop by the age of four as it can have a detrimental effect on their oral health.

And what are those? Let’s find out below!

baby's teeth and oral health

Effects of Thumb Sucking on Oral Health

If your child does not stop sucking their thumb or fingers by the time their baby or child teeth are about to fall, then it will have an impact on their permanent teeth.

It impacts the roof of the mouth and can misalign your child’s mouth and teeth.

Also, if your child sucks it aggressively then it may impact their primary teeth while if they do so passively, it does not cause that much harm.

Though, as soon as your child starts getting permanent adult teeth, they should stop as it can impact their permanent teeth for life.

They can develop a crossbite, misaligned teeth, issues with the palate, overbite, speech impediments and buck teeth (overjet).

Their permanent teeth may protrude out straight downwards or at an angle.

Continuously sucking beyond the age of five can cause an open bite i.e. top and bottom teeth do not align.

Moreover, the bottom teeth can tip closer to the mouth’s back inwards.

The roof of the mouth becomes sensitive and the jaw changes shape.

This affects the way their teeth are aligned and the speech in a way that could lead to a lisp.

These dental issues develop according to how strongly and for how long does your child sucks their fingers.

Hence, your children are at the risk of developing all these dental problems for life if you do not intervene timely.

If they leave it themselves by the age of 4 then that is fine. However after they are 5 years old, then all of these will impact them for their entire life.

The quicker you will try to stop them, the easier it will be for them to forget about and leave their sucking habits.

If this habit engrains deeply then you will have to consult your pediatric dentist as soon as you notice changes in their bite, jaw and teeth.

Now that you know when your child should stop this habit, let’s find out how you can help them leave it if they do not do so themselves.

mom stopping baby from thumb sucking

How Should You Intervene?

Now that your child does not give up this habit on their own, it is time for you to step up.

Be very gentle and caring with them.

Scolding kids can make them more stubborn and they may continue doing it to especially tease you.

Hence, approach them with care and as long as your child is willing to quit, they will even if you talk them out of it.

This is especially useful for kids who go to school because they could feel some peer pressure regarding this situation. This will help them get a chance to get away from it.

Hence, talk to them gently and remind them with care whenever they are doing it again.

If they keep doing it then it is best to ignore them for a while because not paying attention also helps to curb persistent behavior.

Other ways include: 

  • Address the Cause

This habit initiates from the child being stressed, anxious or bored.

They may also do so when they are feeling tired or hungry.

As a result, they try to soothe themselves by sucking their thumb.

Hence, identify these triggers that what exactly causes them to do it.

And, then try to remove the root cause that is causing them stress and anxiety.

You can also use distraction to engage them immediately in some other activity like building blocks, that use their hands.

This way they will not be bored. If they require food, give them that. If it is because they are anxious, maybe a hug can help.

Reassuring words or offering them a stuffed toy to hold can help too.

However, make sure they do not register that this habit generates your positive or negative attention as they may continue doing so if they feel that way.

child with mom at dental visit

  • Visit The Dentist 

If you are unable to figure out how to stop your child from sucking their thumb then you should ask your pediatric dentist for help.

Your child may listen to the dentist better than they do to you.

Hence, asking them to guide your child about the damage can make them stop.

They can also provide orthodontic devices which are both removable and non-removable.

They can help to prevent the sucking by hindering it.

So, it can help them completely forget about sucking as they will no longer be able to do it.

  • Encourage Through Praise and By Giving A Reward

Children are excited about gifts and rewards for good behavior.

Hence, whenever they stop doing what you have prohibited to encourage them by giving them praise or a reward.

Therefore, set goals that they can easily achieve such as no “sucking the fingers or thumb before bedtime”.

When they achieve it give them a sticker, a new toy, a visit to the park or anything else that makes them happy.

Maybe giving sugary sweets will not be a great option as it will create more dental problems.

But anything else is fine.

Also, record their progress in the calendar by posting stickers whenever they have left the habit.

Seeing their own progress and getting the rewards may encourage them to not repeat this habit and children stop sucking when they get rewards.

Break the habit by positive reinforcement.

Praise your child enough and talk to your child that they stop finger sucking.

  • Using Thumb Guards

You can use a shield or guard over the thumb to discourage your child from sucking.

An example is the nipit hand stopper which is a thumb-stopping kit that prevents the thumb from reaching the mouth.

This will help to remind them that this is not the right thing to do and will also prevent harm to the teeth.

Furthermore, you can also place mittens, gloves or a sock on their thumb or you can try bandaging the thumb while they are sleeping.

This can help reduce the impact of sucking their thumb on their teeth if they do so while sleeping.

A tongue crib can also help to prevent them from sucking their fingers.

You can also try dipping their thumb and fingers in vinegar or something sour.

When they will taste bad, they may not want to put in their mouth anymore.

baby using a pacifier

What You Should Avoid?

Firstly, you need to be gentle with your child and constantly remind him gently that they should discontinue this habit.

If you try to scold them or show anger then they may become persistent and might continue it to get your attention and tease you.

Similarly, if you ridicule or criticize your child then it can affect their self-esteem.

It may stop them from doing it but they will also carry a sense of guilt which is not good for their confidence and growth.

You should also not go for pacifiers to replace their habit of sucking. It is not a good alternative but worse.

Do not fall for this thought that you can take it away from them whenever you want to stop it.

Pacifiers cause an equal amount of damage to their teeth as sucking the thumb does.

While your child’s thumb can also get dirty and get cracked and infected thumb, you can still clean it regularly and prevent cracks and infections.

The pacifier can fall to the ground and catch a lot of germs which can stay on it even if you wash it.

Hence, they will directly go you your child’s mouth causing them to fall ill.

Therefore, there is no use in getting a pacifier as a replacement.


You can prevent your child from Thumb Sucking by intervening in their early years.

It gets harder to stop older children from their regular habits hence it is also harder to stop thumb sucking.

Though, as a parent, you are aware that while it is normal to some extent, it isn’t great for their oral health.

Hence, take steps in this article to stop this habit when you can.








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