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Health Tips from Dr. George

Thumb Sucking Can Cause Serious Dental Problems

Dr. George:

Our youngest daughter, who just turned six, has started to suck her thumb again, which she hasnít done since she was a toddler. We know this canít be good for her but she just canít seem to break the habit. Do you know of any cures?

Frieda L.

Dear Frieda:

It would be nice if there were a simple cure for this habit because thumb sucking after age four can cause serious dental problems. The gums are growing and changing rapidly in a young child and pressure from the thumb can force the upper teeth outward while pushing the lower teeth back towards the tongue. If allowed to continue these unnatural changes may need extensive orthodontic work to correct.

If the child doesnít want to quit, they probably wonít, so itís important that you and your child work together to break this habit. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Thumb sucking is often the result of anxiety or insecurity. Make an effort to find out why your child has these emotions and try to address the source of those feelings.
  • Do not add to the anxiety by scolding them for thumb sucking. Instead, praise and congratulate them when they donít suck their thumb.
  • Ask your family dentist or doctor to have a talk with your child about this habit.
  • If the child is still young, form a partnership between you and her against "Mean Mr. Thumb." Make a game out of keeping "Mean Mr. Thumb" away from the mouth. Reward them for any progress.
  • Make the habit more difficult by placing a bandage on the thumb during the day and a sock over the hands at bedtime.

If your child has the desire to stop, but still has a difficult time quitting, see your dentist. They may suggest an orthodontic appliance that can help break the habit. This is a small wire device that is cemented to the teeth and acts as a physical reminder to the child to keep their thumbs out of the mouth.

Dr. George

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