Is thumb-sucking bad?

September 29th, 2021

Is Thumb Sucking Bad?

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb-sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

Thumb-sucking that persists for long periods of time can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop.  Children should ideally cease thumb-sucking by about age three to prevent flaring of their permanent teeth.

Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb-sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult with your pediatric dentist.

A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:

  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb-sucking.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
  • Your pediatric dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
  • Consider using a sticker chart, or one of our coloring sheets to help encourage cessation of the habit.
  • If these approaches don’t work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Sometimes, your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.

Visit our blog for more tips on how to help your child beat thumb-sucking and pacifiers.

Is It Okay To Use A Pacifier?

August 31st, 2021

Union Pediatric Dentistry discusses Is it ok to use a pacifier for infant children

Children often suck on fingers, thumbs, pacifiers and other objects as a way to calm themselves. Sucking, a natural reflex, helps children feel happy and provides a sense of security, especially during stress. Because it is calming, sucking can relax a child to sleep.

Prolonged pacifier use, or thumb-sucking, can cause orthodontic problems such as open bites, crossbites, and flared front teeth. Pacifier usage is often an easier habit to break in a child. For this reason, if your child begins to develop a consistent sucking habit, we recommend that you encourage your infant away from thumbs (or fingers) and towards a pacifier.

Remember to keep pacifiers clean and sterilized often to avoid infections or bacterial growth.

What types of pacifiers are okay?

There are many types of pacifiers, but they are not all equal. Make sure you look for an orthodontic pacifier which is flattened on the bottom and rounded on top. This reduces pressure on the gums and allows the baby's tongue to move naturally. Additionally, heavier pacifiers, like those with a stuffed animal attached, tend to cause more flaring of the teeth due to the pressure from the weight.

Changing your child's habits

  • Only let your child have their pacifier at bedtime or to calm them down when upset.
  • Remove the pacifier from their mouth when they are playing or watching TV and gently remind your child it is for bed time. Don't let them walk around with it in their mouth.
  • Often children will use a pacifier or suck their thumb while snuggling a comfort item, like a special blanket or stuffed animal. Try to limit access to the comfort item if necessary.
  • Make it fun! Remember positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage kids to change their habits. Check out our free printable calendar and coloring sheets.

Click here for additional tips on how to help your child stop using a pacifier, or thumb-sucking.

How can I help my child stop thumbsucking or using a pacifier?

April 15th, 2020

Did you know that when a child sucks on a thumb, fingers, or pacifier, it can negatively impact his/her dental health?  While it is common for little ones to suck their thumbs, prolonged thumbsucking and pacifier use can cause orthodontic problems such as open bites, crossbites, and flared front teeth.

First steps to changing the habits:

  1. Limit thumbsucking or pacifier use to bedtime only or when your child is upset.
  2. Do not allow your child to carry the pacifier around in their mouth when they are playing or watching TV.
  3. If your child engages in the habit when they have a special blanket or stuffed animal with them, try to remove the comfort item.
  4. Make it fun: remember that positively reinforcing the habits you want is a great way to encourage kids as they give up their old habits.  

Check out some ideas below:

For thumb/finger sucking: 

  • Use a sticker chart to track progress. If your child is able to go a period of time without sucking his/her thumb or finger, he/she can earn a sticker. After a certain number of stickers, he/she may earn a special outing or present. Earlier in the process, some children may need to earn multiple stickers per day to keep the motivation up. As time progresses, you can work towards longer intervals. You know your child child. Think about what would motivate them. Check out for a free printable calendar and coloring sheets. 
  • Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb/finger every morning to help him/her remember not to suck it. We recommend using this only during the waking hours to prevent accidentally swallowing the band-aid while asleep. Pick out fun band-aids at the store together! 
  • Try the T-Guard or Finger Guard, a plastic case that covers the thumb or finger and has a bracelet so it cannot easily be removed. This can be ordered online. 
  • Try Mavala Stop, a bitter tasting liquid which is painted on the thumb or finger. This is not meant to be punishment but a gentle reminder. 
  • If these strategies do not work, talk with your dentist about an orthodontic appliance. These appliances are usually only used when a child is ready to stop but is having a hard time with other strategies. 

For pacifier use:

  • Start by limiting use to nap time and bedtime only, or when your child is upset.
  • Leave the pacifier for the “pacifier fairy.” We hear that she leaves fun surprises!
  • Cut the nipple over time, making it shorter and shorter. (Note: make sure that the pacifier is in one piece and not a choking hazard.)
  • Take to Build A Bear and put it inside the bear! 
  • Leave the pacifier for Santa Claus to take to the baby elves, or the stork to give to the new baby sibling or family member! 
  • Cut it out “cold turkey.” Most children have a few rough nights but adjust better than parents think.

Quick Tips to Help Your Child Beat Thumb Sucking

June 14th, 2018

Thumb sucking and finger sucking are habits common in many children. In fact, nearly one third of all children suck on their thumbs or fingers in their first year of life. Sadly, thumb sucking is an unhealthy oral habit that can have many different consequences down the line.

Thumb Sucking can Cause Oral Health Problems 

Unfortunately, thumb sucking can lead to many oral developmental issues that negatively affect the development of the mouth. Thumb sucking can casue an open bite, where the top and bottom teeth do not toch when the mouth is closed. It can lead to a narrowing and distortion of the palate and cause abnormal speech and misaligned bite patterns are common.

What Causes Thumb Sucking? 

Boredom, anxiety, anger, hunger, or even sadness can all cause children to suck on their fingers for comfort. Children mostly suck on their thumbs or fingers for comfort from an uncomfortable emotional state or stressful situation. 

Quick Tips to Defeat Thumb Sucking 

If your child hasn’t stopped sucking their thumb or fingers by age 4, then you must wean them from the habit so that they can develop a healthy young smile. By 4 years of age, your child’s mouth will be rapidly developing and thumb sucking can interfere with that process.

Identify their Thumb Sucking Triggers 

The simplest way to prevent thumb sucking is by figuring out what triggers your child to suck their fingers in the first place. If you can identify that, then you can help them adapt their behavior with positive reinforcement, or prepare them for the situation ahead of time. 


The best way to end thumb sucking is by intervening when your child is in the act. Explain to them that thumb sucking is a bad habit, and that it needs to stop so that they can be as healthy as possible.

Take a Family Approach 

You can’t be everywhere at once, so employ the help of your family to help rid your child of the bad habit. Make sure everyone is using the same language and intervention technique so that your child has a consistent understanding of why they need to break the habit.

Divert their Attention 

Diversion is another great method to overcome thumb sucking. If you catch your child sucking their finger, try diverting their attention with their favorite stuffed animal or toy, something that involves their attention and hands, to get them to quit right then and there.

Cover their Thumbs 

You can also make their thumbs less appetizing by wrapping them with Band-Aids, or cloth. This surprisingly simple method works well, and incentivizes children to get their uncovered thumbs back as soon as possible.

Visit Our Office 

Thumb sucking is a bad oral habit that can be fixed with proper knowledge and healthy habits. Schedule an appointment with our office so we can teach your child about the benefits of a healthy smile, and how they can work on one through healthy brushing and flossing, and a mouth-healthy diet. 

Thumbsucking: Bad For Little Mouths?

August 14th, 2014

Thumbsucking advice
Not all children suck their thumbs or fingers and for those that do, it’s not always problematic. For some children, however, the thumb sucking habit can be a hard one to break. This can have a negative impact on growing mouths and developing teeth, causing the front teeth to push forward over time. According the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, thumbsucking is generally not a concern until after the age of 4. By that time, most thumb and finger sucking habits have long since ceased.

If your child is a thumb or finger sucker past the age of 4, it’s important to understand why he/she is engaging in the behavior. The urge to root and suckle is an essential impulse for newborns, who depend on those instincts for food. As babies mature, some continue to find comfort through sucking behaviors and as they grow, that urge becomes more habitual than essential.

For some children, thumbsucking is an absent-minded habit not unlike fingernail biting, hair chewing or rolling a favorite blanket between the fingers. For those kids, giving gentle reminders when you observe the behavior can be enough to help them break the habit.

For others, the behavior can be an attempt to self-soothe when feeling anxious, scared or tired. For those children, the sucking behavior is more than simply a habit and changing the behavior should be handled carefully and conscientiously. It’s important to keep in mind that a child that is sucking on his/her fingers for comfort is not necessarily misbehaving, so be sure to offer encouragement and support instead of negative reinforcement.

If you think your child is sucking his/her fingers and thumb out of anxiety or when fearful, it’s important that you try to identify what is triggering that response. Once you know what those triggers are, you can move to reassure your child before, during and after those experiences. Perhaps offer small rewards or incentives that are aimed at stopping the behavior.

If you are concerned that your child’s prolonged thumb or finger sucking is causing dental issues that need attention, we encourage you to reach out for an evaluation. Be sure to ask for tips or advice on breaking or redirecting the thumb or finger sucking habit. Sometimes, a simple, friendly chat with the dentist is enough to convince an older child to break the habit completely.

Remember, we are your allies in keeping your child’s teeth healthy.

Thumbsucking and Your Child’s Teeth

January 9th, 2014

How to stop thumbsucking


Thumbsucking is a very common habit for young children and is usually nothing to worry about.  However, it can be a concern when the habit continues or when it begins to cause problems with normal oral development.  Here’s everything you need to know about thumbsucking and what can be done to help your child stop.

Is thumbsucking normal?

Thumbsucking is common and normal. In fact, it is such a natural behavior that ultrasounds often reveal it before birth.  Babies natural reflexes cause them to suck on any object placed in their mouths.  This behavior can provide comfort and soothe anxious nerves, which is why thumbsucking can develop into a habit long after infancy. It’s estimated that 1/3 of all children will suck their thumbs during infancy.  Positive emotional development and peer pressure generally end thumbsucking by kindergarten, but some children will continue the habit which can lead to dental problems.


When is it a problem?

If thumbsucking continues after permanent teeth come in or especially in cases of excessively hard sucking, dental problems can occur.  Your child’s palate (the roof of the mouth) may become arched causing what’s known as an “Open Bite”.  It may also cause front teeth to be pushed forward, causing bite and speech problems.  Many older children who still suck their thumbs may have trouble making “S” sounds or sounds requiring the tongue to touch the front teeth.  Some children develop chapped skin or nail problems on the thumb or finger being sucked.  After age 5, or when permanent teeth are starting to erupt, the child should be encouraged to stop.


How can I help my child stop thumbsucking?

Children usually stop sucking their thumb during their toddler years, but some will continue to use the behavior as a comfort mechanism.  We’ve found that the best methods to curb thumbsucking are based on positive reinforcement.  Here are a few ideas you might consider:

  • A first-step may be to simply ignore the behavior, especially if it is part of a power struggle with your child or it is being used to gain attention.  Some experts suggest a “one month moratorium” on discussing the subject before moving on to other methods.
  • Use praise when your child isn’t sucking his or her thumb, never scold them when they do.
  • Try positive reinforcement such as a sticker chart or other reward system.
  • Seek out the possible causes of anxiety and work to alleviate the reasons for thumbsucking.
  • Some children suck their thumbs from boredom.  Try engaging your child in a fun activity.
  • Allow older children to pick a reward for not sucking their thumb.
  • Mention the behavior at your child’s next appointment and allow us to offer some positive motivation.
  • As a last resort, place a bandage or sock on the child’s hand at night to discourage thumbsucking while sleeping.