Why Do Children Suck Their Thumb?

Thumb or finger sucking is a common habit amongst children. The compulsion to suck is often comforting for the child, and can begin in-utero or when they are very young. Prior to the age of five or six, thumb sucking is not concerning. However, after this age the adult teeth start to erupt into the mouth and a continuous sucking action can cause these new teeth to move into undesirable positions. Dummy sucking can have the same effect on tooth and jaw development, but this habit is usually kicked earlier.

There are three common outcomes for thumb-suckers; upper incisors which tip forwards and take on a “bucky” appearance, an “open bite” (whereby there is a large space between the upper and lower incisors preventing these teeth from being able to meet at all) and a “crossbite” (instead of the upper teeth sitting closer to the cheeks than the lower teeth, they are reversed). The longer the thumb is in the mouth, the greater the tooth and jaw changes that can occur. A handy hint for monitoring how much sucking a child is doing is to check their hands; kids with calluses and blisters on their fingers or thumbs are often the ones sucking for extended periods of time.

What are the remedies?

There are some common remedies for thumb sucking. Try getting your child to wear a glove or paint some kind of bitter tasting material on the thumb (pharmacies have such materials, or you can use the same product designed to deter people from biting their fingernails). Depending on the age of your child, reasoning with them can sometimes be effective. Once they start school, they may begin to be embarrassed by the habit and stop of their own accord.

If none of these strategies work, an orthodontist can attach an appliance to the teeth which dissuades the child from sucking. Orthodontists are also the best people to correct teeth or jaw movements which have occurred as a result of the child’s habit.

If thumb sucking seems to be a persistent habit, speak to your dentist or orthodontist and they will advise you on the best management.