Child sucking thumb

Is your child over four years old and still sucks their thumb? Then this is for you.

Thumb sucking is a natural and common infant habit that develops in the womb for feeding.

However, around four months of age, this becomes a comforting activity. It’s a non-nutritive habit that includes using pacifiers, dummies, blankets or sucking on another’s finger.

Dr De Angelis thinks it might become an issue from an orthodontic perspective if thumb sucking continues after age four. That’s the age when permanent teeth start erupting and replacing baby teeth.

The seriousness of any orthodontic issue as a result of thumb-sucking is dependent on the duration, frequency and type of thumb-sucking behaviour. Research suggests that the duration of the force and the pressure have the greatest impact on the teeth.

The first oral examination is recommended for all children when their first tooth erupts. Examining the soft tissues, the palate and any erupted teeth are essential.

Continuous thumb sucking after the age of four can cause orthodontic issues such as:

Teeth misalignment

It can cause protruding upper front teeth or pushed-back lower front teeth. Changes to the front teeth are the most apparent signs of thumb sucking, but pressure from their hand can also cause lower teeth to tip forward. Sucking habits can also cause incisor displacement. It is usually self-correcting if the pattern is stopped before permanent teeth start to erupt.

Jaw malformation

Thumb sucking can cause the upper jaw to narrow and can result in a crossbite or open bite. The open bite is frequently observed in the front teeth region and is mostly related to the habit of thumb-sucking.

Face shape

Our jaw influences the shape of our face. Jaw malformation can result in a change in the overall look of the child’s face.

How to stop thumb sucking?


Depending on your child’s age, you can try to teach them about the impacts of thumb sucking on their teeth, jaw, speech and facial development.

Behaviour-modification techniques

It’s important to observe when, where and in what situations your child sucks their thumb, and if there are any triggers to the behaviour. It could be because they are afraid, cranky or tired. Giving them something else to do when they are thumb-sucking can distract them. At night, gently remove the thumb from their mouth.

Positively reinforce the behaviour by offering a reward that appeals to them, or by communicating how pleased you are when they are not sucking their thumb.

Barrier techniques

Techniques like wearing a glove and applying sour liquid, ointments and bandages can help prevent children from sucking their thumbs.

Orthodontic appliances

There are various orthodontic appliances available to stop children from sucking their thumbs. Some of them include palatal cribs, spurs, and cage-type appliances. Most of these were designed with a wire framework for either retention or arch expansion to diminish enjoyment and comfort.

American Dental Association has suggested that offering praise for not sucking fingers is more suitable than scolding children to cease the habit. It is important to consider the emotional impacts and effects on a child’s psychology when breaking this habit. Punishment and nagging might not be the best approach to achieving the desired results.

There are various other impacts of thumb sucking, such as delayed development of oral functionality and speech disorders. However, studies suggest that 15% of Australian pre-schoolers who engaged in sucking behaviours had no speech impairment.

Additionally, the habit of thumb sucking during teen years can wreak havoc with confidence and emotional well-being.

If you’re concerned about the effects of your child’s sucking habit on their oral functionality, we recommend scheduling an appointment with Dr Daniel De Angelis to assess their teeth and develop a timely treatment plan.

Dr Daniel De Angelis is Adelaide’s top orthodontist. Over 10,000 patients have trusted him with their smiles. He is passionate about helping his patients. He is an expert in straightening teeth and correcting bites – all day, every day.