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How to Curb Your Child's Thumb Sucking Habit

Mom soothing babySucking is a natural soothing action used by babies. Whether they prefer their thumb or a dummy, the sucking reflex is one that helps to comfort and relax a sleepy or irritable infant.

But as your baby grows and weans from a bottle or breast, their sucking habits should slow down as well. Taking away or cutting back on their dummy use is helpful. But if your child prefers thumb and finger sucking, breaking the habit may be more challenging.

The Problems of Prolonged Thumb/Finger Sucking

Allowing your child to use a dummy into their toddler or preschool years, or not being able to break a finger sucking habit, can lead to permanent anatomical changes.

Prolonged sucking habits gradually lead to changes in tooth alignment and jaw anatomy. The palate (roof of the mouth) may start to narrow, upper teeth jet out, lower teeth tilt in and even changes in speech patterns can take place. The tongue may develop an atypical thrust, altering language development and tooth alignment.

Although your child’s teeth will one day fall out and be replaced, their position guides the placement of their future adult teeth. Malocclusions involving crowding or bone shape can last into adulthood.

The key is to stop finger, thumb and dummy sucking habits at an appropriate age.

Tips to Stop Dummy or Finger Sucking

  • Practice positive reinforcement, such as sticker charts and awards, rather than punishment for sucking.
  • Use age-appropriate language to explain why your child should no longer suck their finger or dummy (i.e. “If we suck our fingers, it will make our teeth start to stick out”).
  • Hide the dummy except for nap times and gradually wean them off altogether, until one day the dummy is “lost” or they give it to the tooth fairy.
  • Distract your child with other activities or toys if they are stressed.
  • Have your child sleep with socks over their hands during naps or bedtime.
  • Talk to our dentist about special habit breaking programmes, therapy or oral appliances if thumb-sucking habits are prolonged.

For more tips and advice, visit our paediatric dental care team!


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