North Brisbane Dental Clinic

Thumb sucking: Should you be worried?

July 13, 2022
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Posted By: Georgia Sheahan

Sucking is an important part of infant development for several reasons; not only does it allow babies to feed, but the sucking reflex also triggers the release of hormones which can reduce stress, bring on drowsiness and provide pain relief.  

It’s normal for babies to explore sucking on their fingers, and this may become habitual for some children as it provides a source of comfort.  Most children naturally outgrow thumb sucking between the ages of two and four.  Similarly, dummy sucking rarely persists beyond this age. 

Thumb sucking and use of pacifiers or ‘dummies’ unfortunately does have an impact on dental development, and this usually involves some narrowing of the jaw and flaring of the upper teeth.  The severity of these side effects generally depends on the child’s genetic growth pattern combined with the duration and intensity of the sucking.  The good news is, in most cases the effects are not permanent, particularly if the habit is ceased before the permanent teeth begin to erupt around age six. 

 

If you are ready to say goodbye to your child’s dummy, there are several techniques available:

  • gradually phase out the dummy, initially removing it from day time use, then remove it from the bed time routine, and finally eliminating the dummy from overnight settling 
  • Explaining that it’s time to give the dummy to a baby sibling or friends baby 
  • Leaving the dummy out for the ‘dummy fairy’ to collect, in exchange for a gift from the dummy fairy 

Thumb sucking can be a more difficult habit to break, as we obviously can’t get rid of thumbs like we can dummies!  It’s not necessary to intervene before the age of 5, however if your child’s habit persists beyond their 5th birthday, some of the following strategies may help to resolve the habit:

  • Positive reinforcement, with the help of a reward chart 
  • Initially aiming for no thumb sucking outside the house, gradually working up to no thumb sucking whilst at home during awake times, and finally no thumb sucking at night 
  • Thumb guards can be a useful reminder and can assist in controlling night time thumb sucking 

 

Some children still have difficulty stopping the habit, and this may be due to an impressively strong will, psychological or behavioural issues, or in some cases possibly due to a constricted airway, as it’s theorised that thumb sucking helps to bring the tongue forward away from a narrow airway (eg. as a result of large tonsils).  If the habit does persist and begins to affect the position of the permanent teeth, whilst not ideal, it’s important to remember that this can be corrected with orthodontic treatment down the track. 

If you have any concerns relating to thumb/finger or dummy sucking, or if you would like a complimentary thumb sucking reward chart, please advise one of our clinicians and they will be happy to assist!