Thumb sucking in young children is a normal response to anxiety and stress. Still, this behavior should decrease by ages 2 to 4. Thumb sucking should stop by age 5. Many children are slow to break the habit. Still, it is important that they do. Long-term thumb sucking can cause problems with speech, chewing, and the jaw and teeth.
Effects on the Jawbone
The longer and harder a child sucks his or her thumb the more problems it can cause. Regular, strong thumb sucking can:
- Make front teeth move
- Reshape the jawbone and palate
- Make upper front teeth flare out
- Make lower front teeth move back and inward
The jaws of children under age 8 are soft and flexible. Long-term thumb or finger sucking can deform the bone around upper and lower front teeth. The deformity may go away— if the child stops thumb sucking before the loss of baby teeth. Otherwise, the deformity may last.
What can be done to stop a child from thumb-sucking?
Home remedies for thumb-sucking include:
- Placing gloves on the child before bedtime
- Wrapping the child's thumb in a bandage or covering it with a sock
- Praising the child when he or she does not thumb suck
- Comforting the child during anxiety or stress
- Placing a toy in the child's hands—to replace the behavior
- Asking the dentist to explain the damage of thumb sucking to the child
- Painting thumbs and fingers with a bitter solution
Thumb sucking can be hard to break. The child will do best with small goals. Parents should reward the child for reaching each goal. The child should not be punished when they do suck their thumb.
Other solutions may be needed. It depends on the child's desire to stop.
A Dental Device
Some dentists suggest using a device called a crib to stop thumb-sucking. The crib is a brace that sits on the upper teeth and roof of the mouth. Crib wires prevent thumb sucking. The crib can be placed by an orthodontist or dentist. The crib is usually left on the teeth for 9 to 12 months.
What About Thumb Sucking in Older Children?
Some preteens, teens, and even adults suck their thumbs. A dental crib can also help break the habit. Counseling may be advised for teens and adults.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Thumbsucking. American Dental Association's Mouth Healthy website. Available at: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/thumbsucking . Accessed October 29, 2021.
Thumbsucking: helping your child stop. University of Michigan Health website. Available at: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tp23120. Accessed October 29, 2021.
Thumbsucking. Johns Hopkins Health website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/thumb-sucking. Accessed October 29, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 10/29/2021