Digit Sucking

Thumb sucking brochure

Is non-nutritive sucking normal?

Non-nutritive sucking, the sucking of thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other inanimate objects is a
normal infant behavior; however millions of people continue the habit well beyond early childhood.
Unfortunately they risk significant and often preventable dental, speech, learning and emotional
problems. There are biological, chemical and psychological elements to the sucking behavior.

Why do babies suck their thumbs?

Babies have a natural urge to suck, which usually decreases after the age of 6 months. But many
babies continue to suck their thumbs to soothe themselves. Thumb-sucking can become a habit when it
is used it to comfort themselves; when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, quiet, sleepy, or bored.
Toddlers suck their thumbs too. Little by little, most children stop on their own between ages 3 and 6.
As the child grows older, sucking becomes a way to handle stress, and that dependence grows more profound each year.

Does thumb-sucking cause any problems?

Prolonged thumb-sucking may cause a child to develop dental problems. Thumb-sucking can cause a child’s teeth to become
improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the teethoutward, sometimes malforming the roof (upper palate) of the mouth.
Malocclusion usually corrects itself when the child stops thumb-sucking. Butthe longer thumb-sucking continues, the more
likely it is that orthodontic treatment will be needed to correct any resulting dental problems. A child may also develop
speech problems, including mispronouncing certain consonants, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.

Before and after pictures of thumb suckers

View of mouth of child with a thumb sucking habit

After 6 weeks of eliminating thumb sucking

At what point does thumb-sucking become a problem?

Thumb-sucking in children younger than four is usually not a problem. Children who suck their thumbs frequently or with
great intensity after the age of 4 or 5 or those who continue to suck their thumbs after age 5 are at risk for dental or speech
problems. Many feel embarrassed or are teased or shamed by other people because of the behavior.

Early intervention is important to prevent and minimize the problems associated with thumb sucking.
The longer the behavior persists, the more difficult it will be to eliminate the sucking activity
because the strength of the emotional dependency increases with time. Treatment to eliminate the habit can
begin prior to eruption of permanent teeth.

When to begin therapy Researchers have discovered that a child’s thought processes and perceptions
of the world are very different depending on their age and state of emotional and intellectual
development. The decision to eliminate a sucking habit depends when the child is able to:

• Understand cause-and-effect
• Comprehend concepts of time
• Can do something out of a sense of pride
• Discriminate between right and wrong
• Practice some degree of self-control and self-denial