Ottawa-Gatineau Orthodontists Alliance
Children Treatment

Concerns About A Child Who Sucks Their Thumb

Posted by Dr. John Kershman, 2018-12-03

For this blog post, we are going to do something a little different. Dr. John Kershman has been kind enough to share a question he fielded and answered from a concerned mother of a 4 ½-year-old girl with a thumb-sucking problem.

Q: My daughter has been a vigorous thumb-sucker since infancy. She is now going on 5 and has slowed down a bit. Bed and TV time are now the most common periods where she sucks her thumb. I’m concerned that if she continues, she will cause harm to her teeth and jaws. What should I do, if anything?


A: Your concerns are warranted, and it would be a good idea for your daughter to stop her thumb sucking as soon as possible.

The fact is that most children, at some point, suck their thumbs or fingers to soothe themselves when they are most tired. For example, when they are falling asleep or having some downtime in front of the TV. The problem becomes that this habit can eventually cause a malocclusion or – improper bite.


Here’s how thumb-sucking causes problems for children

The positioning of the thumb against the palate can cause the upper jaw to grow forward and make the upper front teeth space and tip forward. As well, the lower jaw can be prevented from growing to its maximum potential. Because the lips and cheeks create a suction effect on the thumb, the width of the upper jaw can be reduced due to the pressure of the oral muscles against the side of the jaw.


Thumb sucking is normal for children, up to a point

Thumb sucking is actually quite normal up to the age of 4 ½ – 5 years of age. Studies have shown that the damaging effects of thumb sucking start to show up after the age of 5. Most children who are sucking their thumbs manage to stop on their own.


How to treat a child who is still sucking their thumb.

There are a number of ways to help a child get over their thumb-sucking habit. It can be as simple as having a parent, dentist or Orthodontist sit down and show the child the harm that thumb-sucking can cause. This works well for a child with self-discipline. Unfortunately, most children put their thumbs in their mouth subconsciously as they are falling asleep, so this method doesn’t always work.


Put A Sock (Or Something Else) On It

In the case of some children, it can help to have them go to sleep with a sock or mitten over the hand of choice. This works well as long as the child doesn’t decide to remove whatever is covering their hand. Some children have been cured of their thumb-sucking habit by going to bed with an unpleasant, non-toxic tasting varnish on the thumbnail. Again, this method has varying degrees of success.


Ask Your Orthodontist for help in curing a child’s thumb-sucking

For most children, the most reliable method to stop a thumb-sucking habit is having the child’s Orthodontist (or dentist) to place a fixed reminder apparatus into the child’s mouth. A reminder apparatus is attached to upper molars using bands of rings. It has wire struts that that cross the palate and looks almost like a miniature oven rack. It is smooth and discourages a child from sucking their thumb in two ways:


  1. It removes the pleasure a child derives from placing the fleshy part of the thumb against the warm, moist palate.
  2. It acts as a gentle, friendly reminder that the child is trying to stop the habit.


A reminder apparatus need not be sharp as it is not meant to be a punishment but merely a reminder, as the name implies. Most children to want to stop sucking their thumb but have difficulty because the habit is so deeply ingrained in their subconscious. Successfully quitting will be a big boost to a child’s self-esteem. All they need is the encouragement and (perhaps) a gentle reminder.


Do you have a question that one of our Orthodontists might be able to help with? Why not send us an email and we’ll try and answer it in an upcoming post. Email your question today.


Need to find a Certified Orthodontist for yourself, your child or teenager? Visit our handy directory of Orthodontists in Ottawa-Gatineau today.

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