Pediatric Dental Specialists of Atlanta


Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for babies, offering comfort and helping them engage with their surroundings. This habit is common and typically harmless if it ceases by the age of 3. Beyond this age, prolonged thumb sucking can lead to dental complications, such as improper bite alignment.

Normally, upper teeth are supposed to slightly overlap the lower teeth. However, continuous pressure from thumb sucking can disrupt the natural eruption of teeth and jaw development, potentially leading to an “open bite” where the upper and lower teeth do not touch when biting down. Monitoring thumb sucking is essential, but interventions should be carefully timed.

Breaking the Habit

Children often stop sucking their thumbs between ages 2 and 4 on their own. If the habit persists, consider these gentle strategies rather than punitive measures:

  • Praise and Rewards: Communicate the importance of stopping the habit and reward your child for progress. Use non-dental rewards like stickers or favorite activities to encourage them.
  • Comfort and Distraction: Identify when your child is more likely to suck their thumb, such as during stress or boredom, and offer comfort or distractions to keep their hands occupied.
  • Creative Solutions: Employ unique strategies that resonate with your child. For example, sending a pacifier to the “Tooth Fairy” as a symbolic gesture to encourage them to give up the habit.
  • Professional Assistance: Let your dental care provider know if your child continues to suck their thumb. Dental professionals can offer advice and may recommend a tongue crib, a device that helps break the habit by preventing thumb sucking.

Regular dental check-ups from the age of 1 are crucial for monitoring your child’s oral health, teaching proper oral hygiene, and preventing tooth decay. While orthodontic treatment can correct bite issues resulting from thumb sucking, early intervention can help avoid these treatments and their associated costs.