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Thumb-sucking, finger-sucking, and pacifier use can cause
malocclusion (poor bite) in young children. But
when a child stops the sucking habit, the teeth naturally begin moving back to
their normal positions.
Infants are born with a natural sucking reflex, and it's common for
this reflex to evolve into a comforting behavior. But thumb- and
finger-sucking and pacifier use for more than 4 to 6 hours per 24 hours can
The sooner a child stops sucking on a finger, thumb, or pacifier, the
better for incoming permanent teeth. Pediatricians and pediatric dentists recommend that you take your child to see a dentist if your child is 4 years old and still has a sucking habit.1 If this habit lasts until age 5 or 6, your child's permanent incisors probably won't come in straight. And your child may need orthodontic treatment to help align the teeth.
Treating sucking habits in children isn't usually necessary. Most
children stop on their own. Most parents find it easier to wean
a child from pacifier use than from thumb- or finger-sucking. Children who
continue to suck their thumbs till early school age may feel pressure from
their peers and may decide to stop then.
Treatment for thumb-sucking is a controversial topic. Some children
are not ready or able to stop their sucking habit, despite their dentists' or
parents' decision that they must. Some parents and professionals believe that
when a child won't cooperate, the treatment won't be effective. It could even
be traumatic and may prolong the habit. Others believe that it's sometimes
necessary to try to stop the habit without the child's cooperation.
Treatment to stop a sucking habit works best if your child is
involved in the treatment and agrees to try to stop. By educating your child,
staying neutral, and not being critical, you can help your child get ready for
sacrificing a long-held habit. Consider these tips when helping your child quit
thumb-sucking or related habits.
For more information, see the topic Thumb-Sucking.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Preventive oral
health intervention for pediatricians. Pediatrics,
122(6): 1387-1394. Available online:
July 25, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & William F. Hohlt, DDS - Orthodontics
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