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Is thumb sucking a normal habit in children?

Babies have a natural need to suck until they are 6 months old. Thumb sucking can become a habit in babies and young children who use it to comfort themselves when they are hungry, scared, restless, sleepy or bored. Parents are often concerned about their child's thumb sucking habit and ask us, is thumb sucking normal?

Is thumb sucking normal for children? It is completely normal and natural for your child to suck their thumb, depending on their age and the frequency of the habit. As children get older, putting objects and fingers in their mouths is a natural way to discover and understand their environment. For some children, thumb sucking is a comforting or soothing behavior during times of stress, similar to using a stuffed animal or blanket. According to the American Dental Association, children stop naturally on their own between the ages of two and four. They may return to this behavior when stressed, anxious, or to calm down at bedtime. Dentists recommend monitoring this habit as it can lead to irreversible dental problems. Chronic, severe thumb sucking after a certain age can lead to long-term oral problems such as:

  • Misaligned bite

  • Speech problems

  • Increased overbite and overjet

  • Aesthetic concerns

When should they stop thumb sucking? The sooner, the better! It is believed that thumb sucking is not problematic for your child until the age of five because at this age it can contribute to a misaligned bite. Prevention is the key! If you notice overlapping teeth or a misaligned bite, we recommend consulting your dentist. They may recommend an orthodontic appliance to correct the misaligned bite.

How to help your child stop sucking his thumb? Like any habit, your child probably doesn't even realize they're doing it. You should always discourage them from pursuing it when possible. The main factors that contribute to thumb sucking are stress and shame. You can reinforce healthy behaviors, such as using a stuffed animal instead of thumb sucking when your child is nervous or anxious.

Steps for Discouraging

Steps to help your child avoid sucking their thumb may include:

  • Replace their coping mechanism with a healthy behaviour such as holding a blanket, stuffed animal, or favorite toy.

  • Avoid situations that may increase your child’s stress.

  • Reinforce healthy behaviors like not sucking their thumb with rewards and praise.

  • Discourage the behavior by putting a bandage on their thumb or covering their hand with a sock at night.

  • If your child is old enough, communicate to them how thumb sucking can negatively affect their oral health.

If the habit persists, we recommend to see your dentist. They can prescribe a bitter medication or a dental appliance (in rare cases) to stop the habit.

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