How to Prevent Thumb Sucking


There’s nothing wrong with an infant who sucks their thumbs, but continuing this habit into their toddler years creates a narrow palate, which also affects dental alignment, speech, and ability to properly chew.  Ideally, speech should replace thumb sucking as a coping mechanism; instead of using this habit to feel better, kids should be able to express their feelings out loud, seeking a solution.

When this is not the case, however, and persistent finger sucking continues as your child gets older, consider the following ways to change this habit.

Explain the Downside of Thumb sucking

If your child is receptive to a discussion about thumb sucking, take the time to tell them what will happen if they continue to do so. While your child doesn’t need to know all of the dental problems created when this habit is prolonged, ask them if they’d like to have a nice smile when they grow up. Let them know how thumb sucking moves their teeth out of place. If kids understand why you are asking them to stop, they may be less resistant to your instructions; it becomes less of a because-I-said-so moment and more of a learning experience.

Positive Reinforcement

Parents frustrated with young children who continue to suck their thumbs may be prone to admonishing their child. Instead, flip your instructions to the positive. Praise your child when they are not sucking their thumbs, instead of critiquing them. Children typically rely on the habit because they feel anxious and will only get more upset if they are told they can’t use their coping mechanism to calm themselves.

Alternative Soothing Methods

When you do see your child’s thumb or fingers go toward their mouths, try offering them a different way to self-soothe. Kids may want to carry their favorite toy or stuffed animal to help them feel calm. You can also engage your child with personal attention that helps them forgot feelings of anxiousness, such asking about their favorite song or what they’re learning in pre-school. If the habit doesn’t appear to be tied to feelings of anxiety, but idleness or boredom, offer distractions that keeps their hands busy and out of their mouths. 

Ask our Dental Office for Help

If you’ve tried everything short of a handguard to prevent thumb sucking, ask our pediatric dental office for help. We work side-by-side with parents to curb habits that can negatively impact children’s smiles. Contact the Tooth Station today for more information about dental care for toddlers.