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Thumbsucking: How to Break the Bad Habit

Por Andrea Bianchi, Nutrition Counselor, MyDiet™ Team -

To ensure the health of your children, you must take into account hundreds of issues, including their oral health. Learn why thumbsucking becomes a habit, its health consequences, and useful strategies to break the bad habit.

Thumbsucking is a natural reactionof all infants and small children and has many purposes, like to feel safe and relaxed, or helping them sleep. In addition, sucking fingers, pacifiers, hands, or other objects helps them explore the world around them. This natural habit can last a long time, usually until kids are 4 years old. However, it doesn't affect children's health until they start loosing their primary teeth (baby teeth), when they're around 5-7 years old. Once their permanent teeth start to come out, thumbsucking can cause many oral problems.

The most important problem that can be caused by thumbsucking is a misalignment of your child's teeth.   As a result of having misaligned teeth, especially having the front teeth "pulled"forward, children can develop speech problems, because the bad position of teeth interferes with the proper pronunciation of sounds and words.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and MyDiet recommend these basic strategies to eliminate this habit from your children:

  • Rewardyour child with a compliment or a hug when he/she doesn't suck his/her finger.
  • Avoid scolding your child every time he/she can't help it.
  • Keep a motivational calendar with your child and mark each day he/she doesn't suck his/her finger. After getting a certain number of marks, let your child choose a nice price.
  • Sometimes, children suck their fingers when they feel insecureor when they need comfort or consolation. Be sure to address whatever is causing anxiety in your child; make him/her feel secure.
  • Think of distractions for the times on which thumbsucking is more likely. For example, give your child a toy to hold while watching television or in the car.
  • Remember to consult a dentistand ask him/her to help you explain your child what can happen to his/her mouth with this habit.
  • If you've tried all strategies without success, you can always use more drastic methods, but remember we are talking about your child's health. One of these methods is to cover your child's finger with a bandage or sock during the night. You can also go to your pediatrician or dentist to prescribe your child an oral appliance or a bitter medicationto apply on the fingers.


American Dental Association. Thumbsucking Overview. Retrieved on January, 2009 from: 


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