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How to Get Your Child to Stop Thumb Sucking

May 21, 2018


As a baby grows and learns new things, sucking, especially thumb sucking, becomes a learned behavior associated with pleasure and soothing and comfort. Ninety five percent of babies will suck on their thumb as a reflex, but as a child grows older, thumb sucking becomes more of a habit than a reflex.

It is estimated that 10 percent of children continue to suck their thumb after the ages of two and three. According to the American Dental Association, age four is thought to be the best time to discourage thumb sucking, but at least five percent of kids will continue to suck their thumbs beyond that age.

While thumb sucking may be harmless at a young age, it can affect a child as they grow older. Common problems associated with older thumb suckers include:

Dental issues: Over time, thumb sucking can affect the shape of the oral cavity in older children and kids could also develop a crossbite. Long term affects may include swallowing difficulties as thumb sucking gets in the way of the mouth forming correctly and can affect the growth of teeth.

Speech problems: Thumb sucking has been known to cause speech impediments and approximately five percent of children exhibit a speech disorder by the first grade.

Teasing: From hair color to names to clothes, children tease one another over just about anything. An older thumb sucker is an easy target for ridicule, fairly or unfairly, and might be thought of as a baby if they are seen by kids who have broken the habit at an earlier age.

Germs As much as babies and young children may love to put their hands near their mouth or suck their thumbs, the average person carries more than 3,000 bacteria on their hands.

To avoid any long term issues associated with thumbsucking, the American Dental Association recommends several steps to get children to stop:

Positive reinforcement: Offer praise to children for not sucking their thumbs, rather than scolding them. A reward system can add some fun to the process and make a child more involved.

Involvement: Get older children involved and have them help figure out ways to stop a child from sucking their thumb.

Dentist’s Advice: Have a dentist explain to a child why thumb sucking should stop and offer than encouragement.

Another way to get children to stop thumb sucking is through thumb sucking appliances or anti thumb sucking devices. These devices can help break the habit and many of them are very inexpensive. These include:

TGuards: This is often though as one of, if not the top anti thumb sucking devices, this is a plastic cover that covers the hand and thumb. Anti thumb sucking devices such as these have proven to 90 percent effective in breaking the habit. They range in price from $20-$40 and when they are effective, they work quickly, but they can also make it difficult for a child to use their hands while wearing it.

Thumb sucking gloves or finger covers: These are usually less expensive than TGuards and aren’t as restrictive. Some shirts come with mittens attached.

Chewelry: As the name implies, this is chewable jewelry and is a good substitute for thumb sucking because it helps fulfill a child’s need for and comfort from oral stimulation. These pieces can found for as little as $10, making them very inexpensive anti thumb sucking devices.

Thumb sucking may be a source of comfort as an infant, but can cause many potential dental issues as an older child. By offering encouragement to children for not sucking and providing a means for them to stop such as anti thumb sucking devices, children can break themselves of the habit. Whether through a reward system or by use of a TGuard or some other anti thumb sucking device, there are many thumb sucking remedies available for treating children.

WebMD offers a good guide to parents of thumb suckers with a list of possible scenarios they might face and some ways to help.

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