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Thumb Sucking


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


Call your child's doctor 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 or her 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.

How to help your child:

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


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

  • Cover your child's thumb with mittens, socks, thumb guards, or splints to remind him or her not to suck. Long-sleeved night shirts may help keep your child from sucking his or her thumb while he or she 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 or her thumb, he or she will taste the liquid and stop.
  • A dental device is a brace that is fitted to the top of your child's mouth. The device will prevent him or her from sucking his or her 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 or she has stopped sucking his or her 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 or her dental device checked. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For more information:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    345 Park Boulevard
    Itasca , IL 60143
    Phone: 1- 800 - 433-9016
    Web Address:

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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.

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