Thumb Sucking

What do I need to know about thumb sucking?

Thumb sucking is a way for your child to soothe himself. He may be hungry, tired, unhappy, or bored. Stressful events, such as a new baby or a divorce, can cause your child to suck his thumb. He may have long-term problems if he continues to suck his thumb past the age of 4 years.

How can I help my child stop thumb sucking?

Ignore your child's thumb sucking if it is not causing other problems. He may stop on his own. Do not punish your child. This will make the problem worse. Reward your child when you see that he is not sucking his thumb.

How is thumb sucking treated?

Treatment works best if your child tells you he wants to stop. If your child is older than 4 years of age, he may need any of the following:

  • Response prevention: Cover your child's thumb with mittens, socks, thumb guards, or splints to remind him not to suck. Long-sleeve night shirts may help keep your child from sucking his thumb while he sleeps. Your child's caregiver may also tell you to put a bitter liquid on your child's thumb. When your child tries to suck his thumb, he will taste the liquid and stop.

  • Dental device: A dental device is a brace that is fitted to the top of your child's mouth. The device will prevent him from sucking his thumb. It is also used to correct changes from thumb sucking, such as movement of teeth. The brace may be left in your child's mouth until he has stopped sucking his thumb for 3 months.

What are the risks of thumb sucking?

  • Thumb sucking can damage your child's teeth. He may have large spaces between his teeth, or they may not line up together. He may have a large gap between his top and bottom teeth when he closes his mouth. He may have changes in his mouth that make it hard for him to swallow. He may need to stick his tongue out in order to swallow. He may have problems with the way he talks.

  • Thumb sucking may also damage your child's thumb. The skin on his thumb may become red and dry. Your child may get calluses (areas of tough, hard skin) on his thumb. Thumb sucking increases your child's risk of a nail infection.

Where can I find more information?

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address: http://www.aap.org

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child's thumb looks red and swollen.

  • You hear changes in how your child talks.

  • You notice your child needs to stick his tongue out to swallow.

  • You see changes in how your child's teeth fit together.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's thumb sucking.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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