Thumb-sucking Tricks and Tips for Parents


Thumb or finger sucking is a very natural and comforting habit. We have all heard of ultrasound images showing the developing child already sucking a digit. This  action releases Endorphins and Dopamine resulting in feelings of pleasure. Hence this habit can be an extremely difficult one to stop. 


Generally sucking a thumb or finger is not a problem whilst your child still has all of his/her baby teeth. At the age of around 5 years old, or when your child starts losing their first baby teeth the habit should start to be discouraged.

Sucking after this age starts to greatly affect the development of the child’s upper jaw bone (Maxilla). The suction and forces involved cause narrowing of this area. Ideally the resting tongue should sit up behind the front teeth- an important part in developing and ideal maxilla jaw shape. With a consistent thumb or finger habit this is not possible.


Dentally, prolonged digit sucking and the resulting narrow upper arch leads to further complications such as protrusion of the front teeth, open bites and crossbites.

Pic 1: Overbite. Pic 2: Open Bite. Pic 3: Cross Bite.

Finger or thumbsucking after age 5 can also lead to speech problems, breathing issues and delays in social behavior.


Firstly let’s remember that this sucking habit feels good!! This positive emotion should be dealt with in a positive manner. Lots of love, support and positive reinforcement. Threats and negativity often have a reverse affect and the need for further self comfort. Reward charts and goal setting rewards are often a good start.

Many children have a “Trigger” that goes hand in hand with their sucking habit. It may be a soft toy, a blankie or even their hair. Gently removing this trigger (“let’s put bunny on this shelf where you can see him and he can watch over you”) is sometimes a great way to start.

If the thumb goes in whilst watching TV or relaxing try distractions such as fidget spinners or squishies that keep the hands busy.

Parents might try simple measures such as putting Bandaids on the finger or thumb that goes in the mouth. Varnishes designed to stop nail biting can also be a useful deterrent. A glove or mitten may also be helpful.

For the persistent child who removes the gloves or bandaids or just sucks off the bad taste of the varnish, a Thumbguard may be the next point of call. Available online at can be extremely helpful and available for all combinations of finger and thumbsucking habits. The wristbands are fun and colourful and need to be cut off to be removed.

If you have exhausted all avenues and your child is still sucking their thumb/finger it may be time to see your local Orthodontist. She may recommend a devise that is glued onto the top teeth to help discourage the habit. These devises are simple but very effective and may also address any other problems that have arisen such as widening a narrow upper arch. These are generally left in the mouth for 4- 6 months after the habit has appeared to stop as this is generally considered the time frame to permanently break a long term habit.


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