Thumb Sucking: The Good, the Bad, the Tips to Stop

The Good Sarah Gavin's 3-year-old daughter Emma was a thumb-sucker from day one -- literally. Tucked away in her baby book is an ultrasound image of Emma sucking her thumb in the womb. "It makes her feel safe and comfortable," Gavin says. "I can tell it helps soothe her because, whenever she feels stressed, in goes the thumb andshe calms down in a second."

Thumb sucking is so common because it's a natural reflex for children. Sucking on thumbs may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world. Young children may also suck to comfort themselves and help them fall asleep.

The Bad If thumb sucking continues beyond the age of five, when the permanent teeth begin to come in, dental problems can occur. Depending on the frequency, intensity and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. Your child may also have difficulty with the correct pronunciation of words. In addition, the upper and lower jaws can become misaligned and the roof of the mouth might become malformed.

Tips to Help Your Child Stop If your child is approaching preschool and still sucking away, here's how to handle it correctly:

  1. DO try to limit the time that your child sucks her thumb to her bedroom or the house, not in public. Explain to her that this is a bed activity during nap time.
  2. DON'T tell your child, "You cannot suck your thumb anymore." Recognize and praise her when she's not sucking her thumb instead of criticizing when she is.
  3. DO help your child understand that when she is ready to stop, you will be there to help. If you empower her, she will eventually come and tell you, "Mommy, I don't want to suck my thumb anymore."
  4. DON'T prohibit your child if she tries to suck his thumb after being hurt or injured. She needs to be in her comfort zone, and by not letting her go there, you're only traumatizing her more.
  5. DON'T use the nasty-tasting stuff that is marketed to stop thumb sucking. It's just cruel.
  6. DON'T try a glove or a mitten on the hand as a quick-fix to thumb sucking.
  7. DO remember that a child will grow out of the need for thumb sucking when she's good and ready. Unless your SEDA dentist tells you your child's teeth or mouth are being damaged, take comfort in knowing that kids will eventually give it up.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.