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Is thumb sucking a problem? Tips from a kid dentist.

Thumb sucking, like dummy sucking is a form of non-nutritive sucking. It frequently occurs in children up to the age of three or four. Quite often there is another associated habit (holding a toy or blanket, rubbing the nose, twirling the hair). The changes to the bite are similar to those found in dummy sucking. 

As the permanent teeth start erupting into the mouth around 6 yrs of age, more significant changes may occur as the child is often growing more during this period.In a lot of cases peer group pressure at school is enough to break the habit, but for some children it can persist. Some good approaches to breaking the habit for 4yr olds and up include:

  • Reminders and rewards – Have a reward chart and allocate a stamp or sticker for each successful time allocation. You will probably need to work on breaking the habit in short periods of the day until it is finally broken. First try and focus on morning to lunch. Once this is broken then move on to lunch to dinner, and then finally dinner to bed.
  • Paint on remedies – There are foul tasting paints that can be applied to deter the sucking however, most children will learn to tolerate them.
  • Taping the finger or bandaging the arm – The child is sensing “pleasure” from the skin of the thumb rubbing on the roof of the mouth. Any barrier to this can help to break the habit. Sticking plaster wrapped around the finger may help. Similarly the elbow joint can be bandaged with a thick elastic bandage to prevent the arm from bending. This can be helpful at bedtime.
  • Orthodontic devices – For children who have already tried other methods to break the habit an orthodontic appliance may be the only option. These are generally bonded appliances that prevent the thumb contacting the skin on the roof of the mouth. This is usually worn for 3-6 months.

Remember it takes about 45 consecutive days to break a habit. That is going to require dedication on the behalf of the parent and the child. It is important that your child understands the need to stop the habit and that is why it is probably best to try aggressively to stop around 4 years of age.

If you need a specialist pediatric dentist for infants, toddlers or children, contact our ABC Dentistry Sunshine Coast. Our kids dental clinic is located in Buderim.   


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