Thumb sucking is quite natural and babies will often gain comfort and security by placing fingers, thumbs, pacifiers and countless other objects in their mouths.
Unfortunately, sucking can alter the development of the mouth and affect the position of the teeth and jaws.

Unfortunately, sucking can alter the development of the mouth and affect the position of the teeth and jaws. These changes are more likely to occur when children suck strongly and frequently.

Most children will stop sucking between ages 2 and 4 but I am often asked by parents what can be done to break this habit before it causes any negative side effects.

The first step is introducing the idea of stopping and trying to create a desire in the child to break the habit. Often the sucking habit is a way of dealing with insecurity or needing comfort. Providing comfort and dealing with any sources of anxiety can also help to decrease sucking dependence.

Tips to encourage a desire for change:

  • Give positive reinforcement and praise when your child is not sucking
  • Ask your dentist to provide encouragement to your child and discuss the importance of stopping the habit.
  • Provide comfort and address any anxiety
  • Involve the child in choosing a method and an approach to stopping

Once the child has the desire to stop, it can still be quite challenging to break the habit as it may have become a subconscious reflex to certain feelings or situations.

Changing the sensation provided by the thumb or finger by applying band aids and other objects can serve as a reminder to the child when they instinctively begin sucking.  If all other methods have failed, speak to your dentist about an orthodontic appliance to block the child’s thumb which can be worn until the habit is broken.

Tips to break the habit:

  • Apply a band aid to the thumb or finger that is most commonly sucked
  • Apply a bitter or spicy substance to the band aid to discourage sucking
  • Place a sock over the hand during sleep time
  • Speak to your dentist about making a mouth appliance

If you notice any changes in the baby teeth or you cannot break your child’s habit before the adult teeth are due to erupt, you should consult your dentist.

Dr Laurence McCarthy is an honours graduate of the University of Sydney. He works at Gordon Dental and is a clinical tutor at the University of Sydney.  For more information contact Gordon Dental on 9498 3811 or email drmccarthy@gordondental.com.au