Thumb-sucking refers to placing the finger or thumb on the roof of the mouth behind the teeth and sucking with lips and teeth closed. Thumb-sucking is a behavior -- not a disorder. The mouth, teeth, tongue, pharynx, finger, or thumb are involved. Thumb-sucking can affect children of both sexes up to age 12 but is most common in young children.
Appropriate health care includes:
Doctor's or dentist's treatment.
Psychotherapy or counseling (prolonged or excessive thumb-sucking only).
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Protruding front teeth. Thumb-sucking may put enough pressure on front teeth to move them forward eventually.
Some psychiatrists believe thumb-sucking provides a mother substitute and is caused by a child's need to cling to the mother. Others believe it is an instinctive behavior that becomes habitual.
Lack of love and attention during infancy and childhood.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCE
Provide a loving and secure environment for your child.
Provide other comfort mechanisms early in infancy, such as orthodontic pacifiers designed to minimize tooth misalignment.
Thumb-sucking does not cause serious damage until the permanent teeth begin cutting through gums at age 6 or 7. Most children have outgrown the habit by this age. If not, parents should work with the child to change the habit for the sake of appearance and dental health.
Your own observation of symptoms.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSUnsightly facial appearance without treatment.
If your child develops protruding front teeth, they should improve in 6 months to 2 years with dental treatment.
HOME CAREFor a child over 6 or 7 who sucks the fingers or thumb:
Give your child extra attention. Observe if conflicts or anxiety-producing situations provoke sucking. Help the child explore other solutions to stress.
If the child decides to try to stop sucking, help set goals. Give rewards for any progress toward the goal. Reward is not a bribe, but something earned through effort.
MEDICATIONMedicine usually is not necessary for this disorder.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?Yes.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your child wishes to stop and behavior-modification efforts (rewards for progress) have not solved the problem. The dentist may fit a training device in the child's mouth to prevent the thumb from touching the roof of the mouth.
The child becomes intolerant of the training device or it loosens.
The sucking behavior does not diminish in 6 months, despite treatment. Referral for psychological counseling may be necessary at this point.