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15 Dec

Help! My child won’t stop sucking his thumb

Help! My child won’t stop sucking his thumb!

A problem we frequently encounter at Central Park West Pediatric Dentistry is thumb sucking. For many children, thumb or finger sucking creates a sense of comfort and security. This habit may be present throughout the day or only at certain times, such as before sleep or during stressful situations. For infants and very young children, this is natural. In fact, 90% of newborns show some sort of thumb of finger sucking behavior during their first two hours of life! Unfortunately, when thumb sucking persists past a certain age, bite problems, like open bites, and changes in growth, like narrow and high palates, can occur. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends stopping thumb-sucking and other oral habits by 3 years to avoid malocclusion. The good news is that about 90% of children stop the habit by the time they are 4 years old1 and many of the negative effects of thumb sucking resolve on their own! Luckily for children who may struggle to stop, there are many strategies to help.

Positive reinforcement

Our first recommendation to help a child stop sucking their thumb or fingers is always positive reinforcement. This includes praising your child when they do not suck their thumb and providing rewards when sucking is absent for an extended period of time. Using a calendar with stickers is a fun way to document your child’s progress and motivate them. Studies have show that positive reinforcement has approximately a 20% success rate.2

Other products

If positive reinforcement doesn’t work, there are other effective tools. An easy option may be putting on a band aid or glove as a reminder. Another cost-effective option is Mavala Stop – a nail polish that is painted on your child’s nails and has an unpleasant taste. TGuard, a silicon sleeve that cover the thumb or fingers and is secured by a bracelet, is another useful product. Ventilation holes prevent the child from forming suction, which makes the habit less satisfying.

Orthodontic appliances

When permanent teeth begin to erupt, it becomes even more important to stop thumb and finger sucking habits in order to prevent permanent changes in the bite and promote proper growth. If other methods have been ineffective, we may recommend a consultation for an orthodontic appliance, such as a palatal crib, that is temporarily cemented to the permanent molars. These appliances eliminate sucking habits by preventing the finger or thumb from sealing against the palate. They are typically worn for 6-10 months and have a high success rate.

Regardless of the technique used, the most important indicator for success is that your child is willing and motivated to stop the habit. If you have more questions about oral habits, feel free to give us a call or mention it at your next visit!

Links to helpful products:

Mavala Stop –

TGuard –

Additional Resources


1. Nowak, A. J., & Warren, J. J. (2000). Infant oral health and oral habits. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 47(5), 1043-1066.

2. Borrie, F. R., Bearn, D. R., Innes, N. P., & Iheozor‐Ejiofor, Z. (2015). Interventions for the cessation of non‐nutritive sucking habits in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (3).