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Thumb Sucking Parent Information

Adapted (partially verbatim) from Am Fam Physician. 2009Jul15;80(2):139-142.

About Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers

Thumb sucking is an innate reflex and one of the most common security and self-soothing mechanisms. In infants, thumb sucking and pacifier use are often classified together as nonnutritive sucking methods. Pacifier use has been linked to decreased breastfeeding duration, but the same effect of thumb sucking on breastfeeding has not been reported. In some studies, combinations of the use of pacifiers and thumb sucking have been reported to lead to decreased breastfeeding. Pacifier use has been documented to be protective against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in children younger than six months and was included in the 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics SIDS guideline update; however, there have been few studies advocating thumb sucking as an equally preventive measure against SIDS.

The incidence of thumb sucking among children decreases with age, and most children spontaneously stop thumb sucking between two and four years of age.

When Should Children Stop Thumb Sucking?

School-aged children with persistent thumb sucking should be referred to a pediatric dentist. At this age, when the permanent teeth erupt, thumb sucking can affect a child’s teeth alignment and mouth shape. The greatest risk of developing malocclusive problems, such as overbite and crossbite, occurs in children who have persistent thumb sucking problems beyond four years of age.

American Dental Association Recommendations to Stop Thumb Sucking:

  • Praise children when they don’t suck their thumb (e.g., verbal praise, stickers).
  • Reward your child for not sucking his or her thumb (example: for every day children do not suck their thumb, they get to mark an “X” on a calendar. After a certain number of “X’s,” they can receive a reward).
  • Find alternative ways of comforting and soothing for children (e.g., stuffed toy or special blanket).
  • Provide reminders or negative reinforcement for thumb sucking (e.g., placing topical bitter liquids on the thumb, putting a bandage around the thumb to remind the child not to suck on it).
  • Involve older children in ways in which they can stop sucking (e.g., have children help create their own reward system).

Featured Image: Topical bitter liquids marketed to help discourage thumb sucking: Mavala Stop, Thum

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