Thumb Sucking – A Parent’s Guide

Thumb Sucking – A Parent’s Guide

Dr Sarah Nackasha offers some advice and encouragement for parents.

Parents are all too aware of how young children are prone to suck their thumb. This is entirely natural for a period of time, but if it continues for too long, it can cause potential harm to their teeth, and also the roof of their mouth.

It is a habit that children often use to calm or comfort themselves, often sucking their thumb as they fall asleep at night.

Some children suck their thumb relatively passively whilst others do so more aggressively and it is the latter that is likely to cause the most harm. In today’s blog, The Dental Centre Bedford looks at the potential harm this habit can do, and also offers some advice to parents of children who do this.

For how long is thumb sucking acceptable?

Advice varies on how long children can suck their thumbs before stopping. Much advice in America indicates at around 4 years old whereas The British Orthodontic Society says that providing a child stops sucking their thumb by the age of seven years old, the teeth will usually correct themselves with normal growth. It is better to try to gradually wean your child away from this before the age of seven though, as creating a ‘full stop’ at that age is likely to be quite difficult, and potentially distressing, to implement.

After the age of seven, the adult teeth that are developing are less likely to correct the position themselves and your child may need orthodontic correction to avoid having crooked teeth and an incorrect bite.

How to stop children sucking their thumbs

As we said earlier, it is entirely natural for a child to suck their thumb. That said, it is also a good idea to gradually encourage them away from this habit which can usually be done with gentle coaxing. Remember that they often do this when they need comforting or calming, so the very last thing that you should do is to shout at them to stop etc. Gentle and persistent encouragement is by far the best way.

In order to help them to stop this potentially problematic habit, there are a few things you may wish to consider.


Although not an ideal long term solution, the use of a dummy or pacifier is a good transitional method of stopping this habit, with the softer teat putting far less pressure on their teeth. Do make sure not to ‘sweeten the dummy’ though in order to make it taste nicer; for example dipping it in sweet drinks will increase the risk of tooth decay. This should not be thought of as a long term solution and they should gradually be discouraged from this also.


Take notice of when your child sucks their thumb. It may be when they are tired, or perhaps feeling stressed by something they have seen or witnessed. It may be something that is minor to us but may be interpreted differently by a young child. Once you have identified the triggers that cause them to do this, it should be easier to gradually encourage them to stop.

Punishment rarely works

Whether you try to discourage your children by scolding them, turning off the TV or not letting them play with a certain toy, any form of what may be seen by the child as a ‘punishment’ is very unlikely to work. In fact, doing so is likely to make them feel more anxious and stressed, leading to an even stronger desire to suck their thumb.

Set goals and rewards

Little treats and trips to the cinema etc are a far better way to help your child stop this habit. By gently reminding them that they shouldn’t suck their thumb and rewarding them when they stop is a good way of speeding up this process and helping to protect their teeth. Encouraging the cessation of this habit may be difficult, and at times, hard work. If they continue this habit though, not only are crooked teeth likely, but with it, an uneven bite which can also have a potential effect on their jaw development.

If you are struggling to stop your child doing this, you may wish to consider arranging an appointment for them to see one of our child friendly dentists.  Children sometimes accept advice more readily from someone outside of their immediate family, such as teachers, and yes, dentists too! We can help them to understand what might happen if they don’t stop in a ‘non scary’ way, but one which will hopefully stay in their mind the next time they raise their thumbs towards their mouths.

If you would like to make an appointment to visit The Dental Centre Bedford, you can do so either by using the form on our website or by giving us a call on 01234 819868.