How And Why To Stop Your Toddler From Sucking Their Thumb

When babies are young, they sometimes turn to sucking their thumb for comfort. This habit does not have any serious implications on their health as an infant, but if they enter their toddler years and continue sucking their thumb once the teeth come in, the habit can have lasting consequences on their dental health and overall health. Here is a closer look at thumb sucking, why it is so dangerous for toddlers, and what you can do as a parent to stop it.

Why is thumb sucking dangerous?

When most toddlers suck their thumbs, they place the thumb against their upper teeth and push forward. Over time, this pressure can push the front teeth forward, which causes misalignment of the teeth. Misaligned teeth are harder to keep clean, which may increase your child's risk of cavities as they grow older. 

Thumb sucking also puts pressure on the jaw bone itself. Since your toddler is still growing, this pressure can distort the shape of the jaw bone over time. When your child is an adult, they may experience trouble with jaw pain and TMJ pain caused by the misshaping of the jaw bone.

How do you get your toddler to stop sucking on their thumb?

The sooner you are able to break this habit, the better. Usually, you are best off starting with more conservative methods and then progressing towards more aggressive measures if the more conservative methods don't work. In order from most conservative to most aggressive, here are four ways to encourage your toddler to stop sucking their thumb.

1. Remind your child not to suck their thumb.

Try this method for a few weeks and see if you get anywhere. Simply remind your child, whenever you see them sucking their thumb, that they should not do that. You can tell them things like "You get germs in your mouth that way and might get sick!" and "That's bad for your teeth, honey." Realize that this is a habit for your child and it might take a little while to break the habit. At least give them the chance to break it on their own, with just reminders from you, before you take more drastic measures.

2. Formulate a rewards system.

If your child seems to understand that they should not suck their thumb but needs a little more motivation not to do so, consider formulating a system by which you reward them for not sucking their thumb for a certain amount of time. For instance, every time they go a day without sucking their thumb, you can give them a sticker. When they get 10 stickers, give them a toy. Before long, many toddlers will have broken the habit completely.

3. Give your toddler some chewelry.

Chewelry is a fancy name for jewelry you can chew. There are bracelets, necklaces, and even rings you can buy for your toddler to wear and chew on. They're made from sturdy silicone and won't get damaged when your child chews them. The chewing will provide your child with the oral fixation they were previously getting from the thumb sucking, but it is much less hazardous from a dental perspective.

4. See the orthodontist for a dental appliance.

For the most stubborn of thumb suckers, you might need to visit an orthodontist. They can fit your child with a specialized appliance known as a rake. This rake has pokey—though not sharp—edges that press into your child's thumb when they attempt to start sucking it. Most children only need to wear the rake for a month or so before the habit is broken.

To learn more about thumb sucking and how to stop it, speak with your dentist or orthodontist.