Thumb-Sucking at Growing Smiles in Richardson and Anna, Texas

Thumb-Sucking at Growing Smiles in Richardson and Anna, Texas

Thumb-sucking can be a hot button issue in many homes that have young children. Some parents feel stressed, wondering how they can help their child break this habit as soon as possible, while others feel the action is a soothing one that shouldn’t be banished right away.

So, who’s right? While the issue often depends on your child’s specific circumstances, one new study reveals that science may be on the side of those who favor their thumbs. In a recent study, kids who bit their nails or sucked their thumbs were less likely to have allergies to common culprits like pollen, cats, and dust mites. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, followed 1,000 individuals from birth to age 38. By the age of 13, those kids who bit their nails or sucked their thumbs were 33 percent less likely to react to common allergens and by age 32, it was even higher at 39 percent. The reason: Scientists say these kids were building immunity to various bacteria at a young age—by literally putting them in their mouths. The early years are critical for kid’s immune systems and by exposing them to a variety of dirt, germs, and the like, it helped them later in life.

Normal Behavior

Thumb-sucking or finger sucking, along with pacifier use, is perfectly acceptable for infants. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), this is a natural reflex for an infant that can often be seen in the womb during development. This reflex gives your baby comfort and, as he grows, it may help him feel secure and happy. It can also be soothing, and many babies and toddlers use it as a coping mechanism when anxious or separated from their parents. The habit helps to induce sleep, and children may suck their thumbs in the evening before bedtime.

How Long Is Acceptable?

We have all seen thumb-sucking in an older child and recognized how inappropriate it is. But when is the best time to stop or discourage it? According to the ADA, the best time to discourage thumb-sucking is by age four. By this time, prolonged sucking could begin to affect your child's mouth and developing jaw and teeth, possibly causing permanent teeth to be misaligned. If your child passively sucks his thumb, the habit may be easier to discourage, but vigorous sucking can lead to changes in the palate that affect the permanent bite and are usually more difficult to end without intervention.

Steps for Discouraging

This habit will normally cease without any concern or effort. Often, the best strategy is simply to ignore the behavior. Children will figure out on their own when this behavior is not acceptable from social situations and peer pressure. If the habit persists beyond kindergarten, however, it may be time to intervene.

  • Offer a pacifier to infants; pacifiers are easier to take away.
  • Establish a chart and reward system to track your child's progress for quitting.
  • Encourage and praise your child when they attempt to stop.
  • Visit your child's dentist at Growing Smiles in Richardson and Anna, Texas to learn about the positive effects of stopping the habit.

Some children may experience difficulty stopping their thumb-sucking. In these instances, it may be necessary to purchase products that can be placed on the thumb or fingers to discourage the habit. Oftentimes, just placing a bandage on the finger or a sock or glove on the preferred hand is sufficient. Whatever method you choose to employ to discourage the behavior, remember to always use positive reinforcement to encourage your child. Criticism or nagging may cause more anxiety and perpetuate the problem.

Oral Effects

If the habit continues beyond the age of five or six, the pressure and sucking motion will begin to make changes to the mouth and teeth. As detailed by the ADA, the front teeth may jut out, and the child's bite will be open, not allowing the upper and lower front teeth to touch. The skeletal changes will begin to affect the alignment of the permanent or secondary teeth. Your child's dentist at Growing Smiles in Richardson and Anna, Texas can evaluate the changes and provide a referral to an orthodontist or pediatric dentist for a consultation. According to NYU's Langone Medical Center, in very rare instances a dental appliance, or crib, may need to be placed in the roof of the mouth to achieve a change in behavior. The sooner the habit is stopped, the better the chance that the bite will correct itself.

In all my years as a practicing dental professional, I have only had one patient that continued thumb-sucking well into the teen years and required intervention. The habit is healthy in infants, toddlers, and even preschoolers, and serves as a coping and comfort mechanism that is part of normal development.


We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. Growing Smiles is a pediatric dentist in AnnaRichardson, Plano, Garland, Murphy we have Pediatric Services in Texas: Early Childhood CarePreventive CareGeneral TreatmentsSedation DentistrySpecial Needs DentistryEmergency Service and Orthodontic (Braces & Invisalign) For more information call us to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today.