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Rebecca Chicot PhD
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Child development expert with a Phd from Cambridge University. She has worked on several best-selling books and BBC documentaries. She is the proud mother of three children.
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Toddler / Toddler Care & Health

Thumb sucking in toddlers

Thumb sucking is a natural method of self-soothing that some babies develop. Indeed, babies in the womb are often to be found sucking their thumbs during antenatal scans. However, many parents worry if thumb sucking persists after babyhood.
In Short
Thumb sucking can affect tooth and jaw development so speak to your dentist if you are concerned.

Try to encourage your toddler to take his thumb out of his mouth when he talks to you and explain that you can't understand what he is trying to say.

Children tend to stop thumb sucking as they get older, or only suck their thumbs if they are tired or upset. Try not to turn it into a battle.

Thumb sucking is a natural method of self-soothing that some babies develop. Indeed, babies in the womb are often to be found sucking their thumbs during antenatal scans. However, many parents worry if thumb sucking persists after babyhood.

Thumb sucking shares some of the challenges with prolonged dummy or pacifier use in that it can affect the development of the teeth and jaw in extreme cases. In fact, thumbs can exert more force on the back of the teeth and roof of the mouth. This can lead to a child’s front teeth being pushed forward and sticking out. Speak to your child’s dentist if you are concerned about your toddler’s dental development and they will be able to advise if there is a problem. Many children give up thumb sucking early enough for it not to have a lasting effect on the shape and development of their teeth and jaws.

Stopping thumb sucking

Unlike dummies, it’s harder to intervene with a thumb sucking habit as you can’t take a thumb away from a toddler! However, because it takes some effort to hold a thumb in one’s mouth and toddlers are always using their hands you don’t tend to see children with their thumb in their mouth for hours on end (like you commonly see with dummies).

Most thumb suckers tend to grow out of the habit but in the meantime, they are more prone to infections and sore patches on their thumb or around the nail from having constantly wet, soggy skin. If you’re worried about the effect thumb sucking is having on your toddler’s teeth, or he frequently gets skin infections, gently remind him to take his thumb out of his mouth during the day and whenever he talks to you or is doing something requiring dexterity. Don’t turn thumb sucking into a battleground – it’s frustrating for parents but most children grow out of it with no damage done. Don’t try draconian measures, such as painting bitter aloes onto the thumb – this was done in the past to stop nail biting but is a cruel and outdated method of discipline.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.