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When should my child stop thumb-sucking?

Sucking is a normal baby reflex! It helps babies and toddlers feel secure and happy, and helps them learn about their world and their developing teeth. Thumb sucking is also soothing, and helps to induce sleep or calms the child when separated from their parents or when placed in a stressful situation.

So, when should thumb-sucking stop naturally? Or when is it time to intervene? Is it harmful for your child to continue thumb-sucking after the recommended time? How do you help them stop this habit? Here’s everything you need to know!

When to stop thumb sucking

Our highly experienced dentist, Dr. Frank Sierra, shares, “The American Dental Association (ADA)” recommends that children be encouraged to stop their thumb sucking habits by age four. The continuation of vigorous thumb sucking can lead to changes in the palate and teeth alignment. Proper bite is important for the adult teeth which are set to replace the baby teeth.”
Usually the child will begin to change and cease their thumb sucking habits with gentle encouragement from their family and peers. There are some tips that can help the situation.

Is thumb-sucking bad?

Thumb-sucking is not “bad” and it certainly has an important role in your child’s development. However, when children continue to suck their thumbs after age four, this habit starts to impact the alignment of teeth, as well as the jaw bone formation.

As your little one’s teeth and mouth are growing, thumb-sucking can push their teeth out of place or change the shape of their mouth. This could lead to problems like an overbite, protruding front teeth, or gaps between teeth. If this happens to your child’s teeth, he or she will likely need orthodontic treatment to align their teeth. It’s ideal to help your child break the thumb-sucking habit before it takes a toll on their teeth!

Thumb-Sucking Treatment: Ways to Help Your Child Quit Thumb Sucking

So now you know why it’s important to break this habit, but how do you go about it? Here are 5 ways to discourage your child from thumb sucking:

  1. Give praise when your child doesn’t suck their thumb. Being positive and reassuring is very important and goes a long way!
  2. Take notice when your child sucks their thumb and look for ways to distract them. Make it a game! Say, “let’s see how long you can go without sucking your thumb! If you make it through the rest of the day, you’ll be rewarded with [insert your child’s favorite thing or meal].”
  3. If your child sucks their thumb when they feel anxiety, look for ways to alleviate that anxiety and help them self-soothe with beneficial habits. Maybe they take a dance break and bust a move every time they try to suck their thumb, or maybe they take 3 huuuuge breaths when they revert to the habit.
  4. Add a bandaid or sock to your child’s hand as a reminder that thumb sucking should be avoided. Note that this technique can potentially cause stress in some children, while other children find it entertaining. Be aware of how your child responds and adjust accordingly.
  5. Chart the progress and review your child’s success with them! Make it an interactive process by creating a colorful chart together and getting his or her favorite stickers to give a visual representation of their wins.
With most children, taking these small steps to help your child break the habit will be successful! Their forever smile depends on you and the good habits that you encourage and demonstrate.

Still have questions about thumb-sucking?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions! We’re here to help you and your child maintain a beautiful, healthy smile for a lifetime. We’ll give you any tips you need in order for them to break the thumb-sucking habit. Ready to schedule an appointment? Request one today!