Thumb Sucking and Other Habits (Finger / Pacifier)

It is normal for babies to suck because it helps them relax. By the time your child is two or three years of age, he or she has less need to suck. Due to factors like frequency, duration, intensity and position, such a habit can adversely affect the position of the jaws and cause a malformed palate. As the child ages, the jaw bones continue to grow and make changes. If the child continues the habit as he/she approaches age 2, such undesirable changes may start to become permanent.

What are some tips for breaking the habit?

  • Do not scold a child when they exhibit a thumb sucking behaviour. Instead, praise them when they don’t suck their thumb.
  • Focus on eliminating the cause of anxiety, thumb sucking is a comfort tool that helps children cope with stress or discomfort.
  • Provide positive feedback when your child refrains from the habit during difficult periods.
  • Post a calendar in a conspicuous place in your child’s room or in the house. This can be used for a daily record of your child’s progress. Each day should have an entry. A sticker or star should be placed on good days, and ‘OOPs’ can be written on days that your child forgets.
  • Read a book about thumb sucking with your child.
  • When riding in the car or watching TV, be sure to have some activity that occupies the hands.
  • Some suggestions are coloring books, hand games or other crafts.
  • Keep some sugarless chewing gum handy so that your child might chew instead of sucking if the urge strikes.
  • We recommend that you start with small projects like stopping the habit during the day first. Once that is accomplished you can progress to stopping the habit at night. Positive reinforcement and patience is an important part of helping your child to stop their sucking habit.
  • Once your child has stopped, please let us make a big deal of it by letting them pick out a special prize at our office.

If these approaches don’t work, remind the child of the habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock or a glove on the hand at night. Our pediatric dentists can also provide encouragement by urging children to stop, and explaining the consequences of continuing. Alternate routes of treatments may include the recommendation of myofunctional therapy.