Digit Sucking

Thumb, finger, and pacifier sucking can be a very frustrating habit to break.  The recommendations for the age at which to stop the habit vary.  This is because the extent of damage a child can do to their developing teeth and jaws depends on frequency, intensity, and duration of the habit.  While most dentists agree the habit should be stopped by the age of 3, many children begin to flare their front teeth or reshape their palate (roof of their mouth) much earlier. The long term effects of these habits can include the need for extensive orthodontic treatment and the potential for speech problems.  There are many ways to break a habit and for many children, some simple interventions at home can be very effective.  For other children it is more difficult and they might benefit from a retainer that the dentist can make to remind them not to have their thumb/fingers in their mouth.  Talk to the dentist about all the options at your child’s next checkup!

Suggestions to break the habit:

  • Pick your timing carefully.  Make sure no other stressful events are going on in the child’s life. 
  • Motivate your child (e.g show examples of what could happen to their teeth).
  • Use a reward system (small incentives will encourage your child to stick with it).
  • Be sure to use a positive approach.
  • Note if a stuffed animal or blanket is present during thumb sucking. If so, removing the object may help stop the habit.
  • Further options can be explored depending on your child’s demeanor so be sure to ask at their next visit!