Let’s break the habit

Thumb and finger sucking may be normal for very young children, and will generally stop around 2 and 4 years of age.

It isn’t always just a cute little habit. It can cause issues with jaw and facial development, teeth positioning and function of the muscles. It can impact a child’s posture, the growth of their airways and breathing. It can increase the need for future orthodontic treatment, and exacerbates problems with chewing,  feeding behaviours and speech development.

We understand that this can be a confusing area for parents to navigate and we are here to help you as much as possible.

A tailored approach to thumbsucking

There is no one size fits all approach with thumb sucking management. That’s why we work through the approach with you.

We’ll explore topics such as:

  • Why your child sucks their thumb or finger

  • What happens as a result of thumbsucking

  • What are some of the management strategies

We will provide you with an extensive screening questionnaire, then our clinician will view the questionnaire outcome, and organise the most appropriate appointment for you with the most suited clinician(s) at Kiddies Dental Care.

how to stop thumb sucking

Dispelling the myths

It’s important to know the truth about thumbsucking and whether it needs to be managed.

That depends on each individual child. It depends specifically on duration, intensity and frequency. It depends on HOW they suck, what digits they suck (finger suckers tend to have a higher palate). Some kids put pressure on their teeth, some kids put pressure on their palate, and others will put pressure on their lower jaw. Some children will need surgery to correct skeletal deformities related to digit sucking. Generally, thumb and digit sucking will usually have some form of impact on dental growth and development.

The biggest concern with digit sucking is that it results in improper tongue and lip rest postures and functions in childhood which influences how the child’s face and jaws develop.

Um… sorry, not necessarily. Simply Google “adult thumbsucking” and you will get 42,000 results. There are websites dedicated to this habit. Famous suckers include Rhianna and Amy Winehouse. If you ask around, guaranteed, you will find someone with a grown up son, a cousin, a hairdresser or a husband (NOT kidding) who STILL sucks their digit in adulthood. Adults simply become better at hiding their habits, and it is often used as an emotional crutch or simply for relaxation.

It’s true, the earlier a child stops sucking the better. But before 12 months, mouthing is normal and we need to provide optimum opportunities for kids to suck and chew on appropriate toys. By doing this, babies should turn into kids that have had optimal oral experiences and sucking habits lapse.

At the age of 4 and a half to 5 years old – the so called “Magic Age” children are bright and receptive and are often ready to stop their sucking…. This is a great age to begin a formalized program.

Any mechanical or aversive approach to stopping a child younger than 5 can result in withdrawals (Don’t laugh! Remember the body’s natural chemical opiates!) including bad behaviour and transfer to another habit (think nail biting, cheek chewing, clothes chewing).

As mentioned earlier, children under 5 years are little people, many are still babies really. Age 5 is the time when children can understand other people’s points of view. They are able to take a bit more responsibility and they usually really want to please. This is the best time for a behaviour modification program to be initiated and the best chance for success.

It is true that children who suck are often highly emotional, extremely intelligent little people. But surprisingly, often the act of defiance and continued sucking is because the children themselves don’t know how to stop.

Sucking is a natural instinct for babies. As infants, the first contact a baby usually has with sucking is at their mother’s breast to drink breast milk. Milk contains a protein that is converted into serotonin in the brain and creates a sleepy, tired, relaxed feeling. And children who become attached to sucking as they get older still get a physiological payoff every time they do it.

Prolonged and vigorous sucking results in decreased neurotransmissions in the brain and the chemicals serotonin and dopamine are released – the body’s very own natural addictive opiate.

There are very few ways to mimic this amazing sensation. Many parents say that when they get upset or try to discipline their child over their sucking, ironically, the sucking worsens.

By the time parents get to us, they usually have tried every trick in the book to stop the sucking. Don’t blame the parents. Trust us, they are doing the very best they can.

Concerned about your child’s thumbsucking?

Book an appointment and we’ll go through your concerns together and see what the best course of management is for your child.