Thumb Sucking: Is It Normal?

Thumb Sucking: Is It Normal?


Many parents' first glimpse of their child is a 20-week ultrasound image, with their tiny little thumb in their mouth. It continues to be adorable during infancy, but when it lasts through the toddler years, you might start to wonder when it'll end. If your 6-year-old is still a thumb sucker, you're probably wondering, "Is this normal?"

Take a deep breath. We realize there's a lot of shaming about thumb sucking on the internet, but before we get into the specifics, let's get one thing straight: thumb sucking is perfectly natural.

Is Finger and Thumb Sucking Normal?

Why do so many babies seem to be sucking their thumbs in ultrasound photos? It's because thumb sucking is a normal behavior. It's a natural impulse associated with infants' rooting and sucking reflexes. Some babies may be taught to use pacifiers instead of their thumbs or fingers, while others refuse to give them up.

When a baby is agitated or attempting to fall asleep, the sucking reflex becomes a way for them to soothe themselves. It gives infants a sense of security and comfort. This form of self-soothing should not be discouraged at this young age. If you can divert your baby's attention to a pacifier, it will be easier to break the habit when they’re older, but if you can't, don't worry; there's no reason to panic.

Will Thumb Sucking Ruin My Child’s Teeth?

Isn't it true that thumb sucking causes children to need braces?

No, it doesn’t! That is a myth. If your child requires braces, they will most likely need them regardless of whether they suck their thumbs or fingers.

Between the ages of 2 and 4, most children's thumb sucking ends on its own, well before the permanent teeth erupt. Thumb sucking after permanent teeth erupt causes orthodontic issues in the majority of cases.

There is a caveat, though. Some children are "vigorous" thumb suckers, which means they actively suck on their thumbs or fingers, rather than passively resting them in their mouths. This kind of thumb and finger sucking may have an effect on the growth of the jaw and alignment of the teeth, so in these situations, your child’s pediatric dentist can recommend taking measures to break the habit sooner rather than later.

Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

When it’s time to break your child's thumb sucking habit, treat him or her with compassion and recognize that they use thumb or finger sucking to soothe themselves—and that, like any other habit used as a coping mechanism, it can be hard to break. You should never punish your child for sucking their thumb or fingers; instead, offer them praise when they don't. You may also work with them to help find other ways for them to self-soothe when they're upset or nervous. Thumb sucking at night can be discouraged by having your child wear socks or mittens on their hands.

If these methods have failed, a habit appliance, which is attached to the back molars, may be necessary. Although most children do not need habit appliances, they can be beneficial for kids who are still sucking their thumbs after the age of four or younger kids who are vigorous thumb suckers. In such situations, a more proactive approach to preventing orthodontic problems may be needed.

Learn More About Thumb Sucking

Do you have questions about your child’s thumb sucking habit? Contact us today at 310-530-9893 to schedule an appointment for a consultation.