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All babies are born with a sucking reflex. Sucking on a nipple, thumb, fist, or finger may help the baby feel secure. This is soothing to a child and may become a habit. Thumbsucking by itself is not a cause or symptom of a physical or psychological problem.

Many children who suck their thumbs or fingers stop by the time they are 6 or 7 months of age. Most will have stopped by 4 years of age. Children older than 5 may continue the habit because:

  • it is soothing
  • it has become a power struggle between parent and child, or
  • it has become a habit

If your child is younger than 4, you may simply ignore the behavior. You may also be able to distract your child with other activities. It is not helpful to pull the child's hand out of his mouth or punish the child. Doing so will make the problem worse.

Children will naturally stop daytime sucking habits before they get too far in school. Peer pressure is usually the reason they stop. Nighttime sucking may continue as a way of going to sleep. Your child may also suck to calm down when he is upset. Most children will eventually stop this habit on their own.

After 5 years of age, you can help your child give up thumb sucking during the day. by:

  • Talking to your child about stopping the habit during a time when he is not stressed, unhappy, or sick.
  • Showing your child what thumb sucking is doing to the teeth and to the skin on the thumb.
  • Getting your child to agree that he wants to stop.
  • Giving gentle reminders each time the habit is continued, and
  • Rewarding positive behavior.

A child will not cause dental problems even if he sucks his thumb until age 4 or 5. If thumb sucking continues after permanent teeth come in at age 6 or 7, it may cause problems with the way teeth come in or cause changes in the roof of the mouth. Talk to your child's dentist or healthcare provider about any concerns you have about this habit. They will have information on ways to help your child stop thumb sucking.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File pedi3777.htm Release 13/2010

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