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Thumb sucking

Many infants and children suck their thumbs. Some even start sucking their thumbs when they are still in the womb.

Thumb sucking can make children feel secure and happy. They may suck their thumbs when they are tired, hungry, bored, stressed, or when they are trying to calm down or fall asleep.

Information

Do not be too concerned if your child sucks his thumb.

DO NOT punish or nag your child to make him stop. Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own, by the time they are 3 to 4 years old. They grow out of sucking their thumb and find other ways to comfort themselves.

Older children most often stop from peer pressure at school. But if your child feels pressured to stop, he may want to suck his thumb more. Understand that sucking his thumb is how your child calms and comforts himself.

It is ok for children to suck their thumb until their adult teeth start coming in, at around age 6. Damage to the teeth or the roof of the mouth seems to happen more if a child sucks hard. If your child does this, try to help him stop sucking his thumb by age 4 to prevent damage.

If your child's thumb gets red and chapped, put cream or lotion on it.

Help your child stop thumb sucking.

Know that it is a hard habit to break. Start talking to your child about stopping when he is 5 or 6 years old and you know his adult teeth are coming in soon. Also, give help if thumb sucking embarrasses your child.

If you know when your child most often sucks his thumb, find other ways for your child to find comfort and feel secure.

  • Offer a toy or a stuffed animal.
  • Put your child down for a nap earlier when you notice he is getting sleepy.
  • Help him talk out his frustrations instead of sucking on his thumb to calm down.

Give support to your child when he tries to stop sucking his thumb.

Praise your child for not sucking his thumb.

Ask your child's dentist or health care provider to talk to your child about stopping and to explain the reasons to stop. Also, ask your child's providers about:

  • Using a bandage or thumb guard to help your child.
  • Using dental appliances if your child's teeth and mouth have been affected.
  • Placing a bitter medicine on the thumb. Be careful to use something that is safe for your child to consume.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthychildren.org website. Pacifiers and thumb sucking. www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed September 18, 2017.

Martin B, Baumhardt H, D'Alesio A, Woods K. Oral disorders. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 21.

  • Herpetic whitlow on the thumb

    Herpetic whitlow on the thumb - illustration

    A herpetic whitlow is an infection of the herpes virus around the fingernail. In children, this is often caused by thumbsucking or finger sucking while they have a cold sore. It is seen in adult healthcare workers such as dentists because of increased exposure to the herpes virus. The use of rubber gloves prevents herpes whitlow in healthcare workers.

    Herpetic whitlow on the thumb

    illustration

  • Thumbsucking

    Thumbsucking - illustration

    Thumbsucking is a normal activity with its peak occurrence at about age two. Thumbsucking can be an important source of pleasure for an infant and is usually nothing to worry about since a child will usually grow out of the habit. If thumbsucking occurs past age 4, dental problems may occur such as malocclusion. Malocclusion is the abnormal contact between the teeth of the upper and lower jaw.

    Thumbsucking

    illustration

    • Herpetic whitlow on the thumb

      Herpetic whitlow on the thumb - illustration

      A herpetic whitlow is an infection of the herpes virus around the fingernail. In children, this is often caused by thumbsucking or finger sucking while they have a cold sore. It is seen in adult healthcare workers such as dentists because of increased exposure to the herpes virus. The use of rubber gloves prevents herpes whitlow in healthcare workers.

      Herpetic whitlow on the thumb

      illustration

    • Thumbsucking

      Thumbsucking - illustration

      Thumbsucking is a normal activity with its peak occurrence at about age two. Thumbsucking can be an important source of pleasure for an infant and is usually nothing to worry about since a child will usually grow out of the habit. If thumbsucking occurs past age 4, dental problems may occur such as malocclusion. Malocclusion is the abnormal contact between the teeth of the upper and lower jaw.

      Thumbsucking

      illustration

     

    Review Date: 9/5/2017

    Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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