The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Thumb-Sucking

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Thumbsucking in wombThumb-sucking is a natural habit for infants and toddlers – so natural, in fact, that it oftentimes begins in the womb. However, it’s also natural for parents to worry about the effect it will have on their child’s smile, and in many instances, their future “social life.”

While most parents know that thumb-sucking can cause damage past a certain age, what many don’t know is at what age thumb-sucking becomes detrimental to the formation of the teeth, or what kind of lasting damage can occur if not stopped in time. It’s important that parents recognize when it’s time to put an end to the thumb-sucking , and that they have a clear idea as to how to do so in the most natural way possible. That’s exactly what this blog post is meant to do: to help you determine when your child is ready to stop the habit, and how to help you help them without starting WWIII in your household.

Problems Caused By Thumb-Sucking

Thumb-sucking, while healthy for the first year or two of a child’s life, can cause permanent damage to the teeth if it continues beyond that. These problems can include:

  1.     Buck teeth, which can alter the shape of the face and lead to an overbite.
  2.     A lisp. When a child sucks their thumb excessively, the front teeth risk being pushed out of alignment, interfering with the correct formation and creating certain, unnatural speech sounds.
  3.     Malformation is an extreme consequence of thumb-sucking, but it does occur when the upper and lower jaws become misaligned and the habit STILL isn’t broken.

A lot of parents struggle with getting their toddler to stop the habit—after all, it’s oftentimes one they’ve had since BEFORE birth. We know it can be hard on both you and them, but we hope to make it a little easier. Here are a few tricks you can use to break the habit in as pain free a way as possible:

  1.     Reward your child. Don’t scold them for sucking their thumb – this will only increase their anxiety and make them want to do it even more. Every time they don’t suck their thumb when they normally would, given them a hug or praise. Positive reinforcement is always the best way to encourage healthy habits and break not-so-good ones.
  2.     Don’t nag. Like with anything and anyone, if your child feels as if you’re nagging them, they’ll only become defensive.
  3.     Keep track of their progress. For every day your child doesn’t suck their thumb, place a gold star, smiley face or even just an X on the calendar. Set goals. For instance, for every week your child doesn’t suck their thumb, take them on an outing, or buy them a special toy they’ve been wanting.
  4.     Use reminders (if necessary). If none of the above work for your child, have them wear mittens, or an unpleasant tasting (and non-toxic!) nail paint on all of the problem fingers. At bedtime, place a Band-Aid over the thumb as a reminder.
  5.     Offer distractions! What’s the best way to get people to stop doing or thinking about something? Get them to think about something else! Provide toys and cuddle buddies while watching TV, going for drives or any other “quiet times.”

How Often Should You Reward Them?

Start off by rewarding them every night they don’t suck their thumb. As they get better about not doing it, increase the time between rewards to every other day, to once a week and eventually, to 30 days.

But Just Like with Most Things…

…your child may drift back into their comfort habit—even if they’ve been good about it for days or even weeks. Don’t get frustrated with them. Simply remind them of what they’re doing and go back to rewarding them daily until you feel they’re back on the wagon.

Want Help?

There are several people you can turn to for help if you feel that you’re just not getting through to your child. A few I can think of off hand are:

  •      Your dentist
  •      Your pediatrician
  •      Your doctor
  •      Your public or oral health services department

As your dentist, we highly recommend ThumbGuard if all else fails. While the ThumbGuard doesn’t necessarily prevent thumb-sucking, it does take away the enjoyment by taking away the suction—the sensation that all kids suck their thumbs for. With a 95% success rate, it’s almost guaranteed that when you break the suction, you break the habit.

At Paragon Dental, we can direct you towards the ThumbGuard that will work best for your child and their needs. Schedule an appointment today so that we can help you put a stop to the bad habit before it’s too late!

Want to learn more about the ThumbGuard? Visit

Our team wants your child to grow up with the bright, beautiful smile all individuals deserve. Let us help you at this crucial time in their life – give us a call today at 402-331-2070, or visit us at


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