Non-nutritive Sucking

Non-nutritive sucking (sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects) is completely normal for many infants to young children.   For babies it is a normal manner to explore their world and provides a sense of security and comfort.   

However, persistent long term sucking can cause many issues with the teeth and the growth of the jaw.  For example, the upper front teeth may become tipped forward and the upper and bottom front teeth may not come together.  This could potentially result in other issues like with speech as well as a higher propensity for trauma to the teeth. 
Pediatric dentists usually recommend intervention if the habit persists longer than 4 years of age due to the potential future issues that may occur.  
Since thumb sucking may provide a sense of soothing, we often recommend parents do not create a negative reinforcement in regards to stoppage.  We want to positively reinforce the child to stop sucking their thumbs.  This sometimes may not occur until the child wants to stop on their own.   
Here are some recommendations:
1.  Praise your child or provide a small reward for not sucking their thumb (i.e.  Stickers on a chart)
2. Identify stress triggers that may result in thumb sucking and try to find alternatives. (I.e. If your child sucks their thumb before bed time, attempt to replace the habit with something more positive – bed time story, special teddy bear)
3.  Offer gentle reminders if the child is tolerant (I.e.  Band-aid, mitten, sock)
For some children, thumb sucking may be very difficult to stop. If thumb sucking is not associated with an anxiety issue, most children will usually stop on their own during the school years when they see other children not do it.  The pediatric dentist can also fabricate dental appliances in later years that can help break the habit. 

Digit sucking is a habit that occurs in infants. Children usually give up digit sucking by the age of four. If the child continues past the age when their permanent teeth start to erupt, they may develop crooked teeth and a malformed roof of their mouth. This results from the frequency, duration, intensity, and position of the digit in the child’s mouth. This can also affect the position of the upper and lower jaw and can also affect speech.

Suggestions to break the habit:

  • Wait till the time is right (low stress).
  • Motivate your child (show examples of what could happen to their teeth and fingers/thumbs).
  • Use a reward system (small incentives will encourage your child to stick with it).