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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 to help your child:

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.


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-sleeved night shirts may help keep your child from sucking his thumb while he sleeps. Your child's healthcare provider 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.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider or dentist as directed:

Your child may need to return to have his dental device checked. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For more information:

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

Contact your child's healthcare provider or dentist 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.

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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.