Thumb Sucking – Possible Complications & How to Deal With It?

Thumb sucking habit of your kid after a certain age becomes the point of concern for every parent. Sucking is natural reflux and helps your kid to deal with the stress.

But if continued after 5 years of age, it has the potential to damage your kid’s dentition. The common oral effects noticed in kids with thumb sucking habits includes open bite, cross bite, speech impediment, etc. (1)


Parents play a significant role in encouraging their kids to give up on sucking habit. Child’s counseling, positive reinforcement, a gentle reminder can help your kid to get over the habit.

It is difficult for the child to give up on the sucking habit all of a sudden. So, you have to be little more patient while dealing with the situation. Let us get to know more about thumb sucking habit.

What is Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is either a natural act or a nasty habit. Kids suck their thumb to soothe or relax themselves. Sometimes they have the habit of practicing thumb sucking while sleeping.

Usually, kids suck their thumb when they are in the new environment, surrounded by strangers or upset. The only good part of this habit is that your kid will relax and calm on their own rather cry.

When to consider thumb sucking normal?

Thumb sucking is the normal instinct and most children stop this habit when their age is between two to four years. But if your kid sucks his thumb even after the age of five, then this is the point of concern since prolonged sucking habit further develops oral issues.

Thumb sucking often starts in infancy or even earlier. Most of the times, babies start sucking their thumb in the womb of the mother. But the same habit, later on, makes you feel worried.

So, finger or pacifier sucking habit is entirely normal till the age of 4 years as it causes no damage as such to kid’s oral health. Also, thumb sucking habit is considered safe till the permanent teeth of the child begin to appear.

How thumb sucking affects the oral cavity?

Thumb sucking habit can develop various oral issues such as speech impediment, infections, abnormal facial growth (2), fingernail damage, etc.

Children with thumb sucking habit also show a delay in speaking and it becomes difficult for them to pronounce words with the finger in the mouth.

The severity of illnesses depends on the intensity of the sucking. It does not only creates speech problems but is also responsible for the many dental related issues such as –


In this habit, a child places his thumb on the palate, behind the upper front teeth while sucking. Also during sucking, the pressure is exerted by cheeks on the jaw. The palate is narrow and deep in thumb suckers.

The narrow palatal arch results in crossbite where the upper teeth bite rest inside the lower teeth.

Open bite

During the thumb sucking, excessive pressure exerted on the upper anterior teeth. Pressure on the upper front teeth leads to the incomplete eruption of the teeth and develops open bite in the children with thumb sucking habit. (3)

How to discourage the thumb sucking habit?

After the age of 4 years, the responsibility to encourage your kid to stop the habit lies on the parent’s shoulder. It is not easy for the kid to suddenly give up on sucking habit. But here is least what you can do to help them quit the habit –

  • Gentle reminder – Whenever your kid starts to suck thumb without a thought, remind them to stop. Do not scold or criticize them. A kid will listen to you if you instruct them in a soft and gentle voice. Make sure you don’t create embracement for them by scolding them when everyone is around. You can use hand signals or clues in such a scenario.
  • Use positive reinforcement – Praise your kid whenever they spend a day without sucking thumb. You can also offer rewards like extra bedtime, trip to park when he or she isn’t thumbing sucking.
  • Identify trigger – Usually, kids suck their thumb to relieve the stress. Find out the issue and comfort your kid with reassuring words or hug. Often, kids give on their sucking habit when they find something that calms them. So, try giving your kid stuffed animals or pillow to squeeze.
  • Use of negative reinforcement is generally not applied at the very initial stage if you have tried all the ways and consulted your dentist too. But your kid does not give up on his or her sucking habit. Then only negative reinforcement can be applied. Negative reinforcement includes the unpleasant ways such as applying the bitter and health friendly substance on your kid’s thumb or bandaging their thumb.
  • Use of pacifiers will also help you to discourage the thumb sucking habit of your kid. (4)

A child with the habit of thumb sucking often gets teased by the friends. This social stigma act as the motivation for the child to stop the habit.

See your dentist if you are worried about the oral effects of your child’s thumb-sucking habit. Many times, the dentist can make your kid understand about the hazards of sucking thumb. So, seeing the dentist for your kid’s counseling is the best way.

Over to you

Thumb sucking habit can be corrected if treated with the proper method. Also, we can undo the damage with the orthodontic treatment options. So, instead of worrying about your kids sucking habit, start working on it.


Remember, kids, take a lot of time to quit the sucking habit. Meanwhile, pressurizing kids to stop the habit won’t help because they probably don’t even realize what they are doing.

Also, the induced stress on kid might delay the results. Hence, encouragement works best to get rid of thumb sucking habit.


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