Dentist Questions Oral Health

How can I stop my child from thumbsucking?

My daughter is 4 years old, and she sucks her thumb often. We usually just tell her to not do that, which works some of the time. But now she's doing it more frequently. What can we do to help her? And what could happen if she continues to suck her thumb?

9 Answers

Try the reward method. Buy a toy that she really wants. Put it on top of a dresser or refrigerator (up out of her reach) and tell her she can have it when she stops sucking her thumb. Continually reminding her of it or punishing her adds to the insecurity that is causing the problem.
Think of the thumb as an orthodontic appliance, chronic thumb-sucking will create deviant jaw and tooth growth patterns that will require orthodontic intervention. While most children out grow thumb sucking at an early age without a major concern some continue. For some positive reinforcement and prizes such as placing a star on the calendar for each day your child does not suck their thumb leading to prizes. There are fingernail polishes, such as Mavala, that give a bad taste, which may deter thumb sucking. We also use myobrace appliances which have been effective, they're an infant trainer appliance for young children. Check our Myobrace.com for more information and talk with your dentist about treatments for thumb-sucking cessation.

Dr. Joe Ferraro
Positive reinforcement is the best at this age. The more often you tell her to quit, you are actually reinforcing the behavior. My son was also a thumb sucker. We tried not to make a big deal about it. As he got older, we told him he could only suck his thumb in bed. His grandparents made a big deal about the thumb sucking one weekend, and after that he was sucking 24/7. We waited until he was 7 and he was getting some peer pressure to stop when we had the orthodontist place a device that inhibits the ability to create suction. Psychologically, 4 years old is far too young for this treatment. She will develop some orthodontic problems from sucking her thumb past 4 years old, but early orthodontic intervention (around age 7) should be able to counteract the problems.
You can try a spicy compound like pepper or horseradish. If that does not work an appliance called a thumb sucking appliance can be cemented on the last baby tooth on the maxillary arch, which will stop thumb sucking.
Thumb sucking is a very common thing that many children do. Usually, we recommend positive encouragement to help the child to stop, rather than reprimanding or punishing them. Most children do it for comfort. Try working with your child and explaining that this habit can have long term effects. Thumb sucking can result in the top jaw becoming very narrow and the top front teeth being pushed too far forward out of position. The sooner your child stops this habit the better. Having the habit being discontinued before the front permanent teeth come in is always the goal. At the age of 7, your child should see an orthodontist to evaluate if there are any problems to fix as a result of the thumb sucking.

Thanks and have a great day!
Good day,

Thumb sucking will eventually cause her front teeth to have an open bite, which can affect her appearance and function (rating and speaking). What you can do is maybe try putting some spicy paste or sauce on her thumb and she might stop. If it doesn't work, then you will need to take her to a dentist to make an appliance to wear.

Kind regards,

Dr. Chun-I Lee
Google "Dentistry IQ, treatment for non-nutritive sucking in pediatric dental patients." It is an article I wrote for dental professionals, but parents can benefit from it as well.

Dr. Jensen
Thumb sucking is a psychological and myofunctional expression of a carryover from nursing during infancy in most cases they should disappear when the child begins drinking from a cup rather than using the nipple from the bottle. If it persists, contact your dentist or have a consultation with a child specialist in order to use a more radical approach so as not to injure the erupting permanent teeth and require orthodontic treatment later from the overactive muscles of the face used during suction, which produces a dental malocclusion.
Dental habit correctors are available both as fixed or removable apppliances depending on the situation. It’s very important for a four year old to stop thumb sucking to prevent orthodontic malocclusion. Many times the malocclusion self corrects once the habit is stopped.