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Healthy Mouth, Healthy Kids




My son just turned 3 years old and has a thumbsucking habit. He rarely sucks his thumb during the day; but he sucks the thumb 20-30 minutes before naptime and bedtime. Then throughout the night he will put it in his mouth and suck off and on all night. I am concerned because he is a very aggressive thumbsucker. He has a large callous on his thumb and the nail stays damaged. He has a fairly large gap between his front teeth and they are beginning to protrude forward. Is it too early to begin taking steps to stop the habit or should I let it go for another year or two? My opinion is that we should start now in hopes of having the habit completely broke by the time he is 4 years old. Also, what would be some recommended ways to approach this problem? I know it will take time and he will not be receptive to stopping the habit; but I had some very bad orthodontical problems when I was a child, and I really do not want him to go through the same thing. Thank you.


The seriousness of a thumb sucking habit is measured by its frequency, duration and intensity, and it's clear that your son is really "attached" to that habit.  As tempting as it is to try to break the habit now, such efforts are frequently unsuccessful and lead to frustration for child and parents.  Strong habits like this one are most successfully broken when the child WANTS to stop.  Obviously, that won't be the case with a 3 year old.  

Classic "home" methods to break thumb habits include taping on a mitten or wrapping the thumb in gauze.  Your dentist can also make an appliance to place in your son's mouth which occupies the space where his thumb rests, but again, these methods work best when the child wants to stop the habit. A reasonable goal would be to discontinue the habit by the time his front baby teeth are lost. A pediatric dentist can examine your son and counsel you on a plan to follow.    

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Response by:

Dennis J McTigue, DDS Dennis J McTigue, DDS
Professor of Pediatric Dentistry
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University