Thumb and Finger Sucking
Is thumb and finger sucking normal?
Sucking is a healthy, normal and natural habit for infants. Most babies find comfort from sucking a thumb, finger or a pacifier.
When should I be concerned?
Thumb and finger sucking is not usually a concern until permanent teeth appear, unless some or all of the following factors are present:
◦ Forceful sucking.
◦ Sucking often during the day.
◦ Sucking throughout the night rather than just at bedtime.
◦ Sucking that has caused changes to the position of teeth, mouth or lips.
◦ Sucking along with tongue thrusting and speech difficulties.
What are the dental effects of thumb and finger sucking?
Tips for parents
◦ Instead of scolding children for sucking, praise them when they are not.
◦ Spend lots of time with your child encouraging other uses of the hands such as puzzles,
colouring, anything that will keep their hands busy.
◦ For habit-free days, offer a reward such as special time, a favourite video or activity.
◦ At naptime or bedtime, offer a child a small toy to hold and cuddle to replace the habit.
◦ The strong muscle action used for thumb or finger sucking can change the
shape of the mouth and the position of the teeth and lips. This can lead to
abnormal swallowing patterns, even when thumb or fingers are not present
in the mouth.
◦ Repeated sucking after the four front permanent teeth grow in, makes these
conditions worse and may require treatment and, in extreme cases surgery.
.◦ If, after the age of four, a child is unable to give up the habit, it is advisable to consult a dental
◦ Sucking is a normal, natural habit for infants. A pacifier can satisfy this
need and help to comfort and relax a baby. However, not all babies
require a pacifier. It is better for a baby to suck on a pacifier than on a
finger, toy or blanket.
◦ If you are breast-feeding, avoid using a pacifier until breast-feeding is
going well, usually after eight weeks. This will help avoid nipple
confusion as the sucking action required for breast-feeding and
pacifiers is different.
◦ To prevent changes to the shape of a baby's mouth, it is important to give a baby a pacifier that
is soft enough to flatten out against the roof of the baby's mouth during sucking. Continual use
should be discouraged.
◦ When choosing a pacifier, look for one that is orthodontically approved. For safety reasons, one
piece designs are recommended. Avoid attaching a string to the pacifier to prevent possible
strangulation. Check the pacifier regularly to ensure it is in good condition. Tears, cracks or other
signs of wear may make it unsafe for your baby to use.
◦ Avoid coating pacifiers with sugar, honey or any sweet substance as this can cause baby's teeth
to decay. Honey and corn syrup may also contain spores that can cause food poisoning in
infants under one year of age
◦ Tongue thrust (also called reverse swallow or immature swallow) is the common name
of orofacial muscular imbalance, a human behavioral pattern in which the tongue protrudes
through the anterior incisors during swallowing, speech, and while the tongue is at rest. Nearly
all young children exhibit a swallowing pattern involving tongue protrusion, but by the age of six
most have switched to a normal swallowing pattern. People who tongue thrust do it naturally and
are usually unaware of the behavior.
Since 1958, the term "tongue thrust" has been described and discussed in speech and dental publications by many writers. Many school-age children have tongue thrust. For example, according to recent literature, as many as 67–95 percent of children 5–8 years old exhibit tongue thrust, which may be associated with or contributing to an orthodontic or speech problem. Up to the age of four, there is a possibility that the child will outgrow tongue thrust. However, if the tongue thrust swallowing pattern is retained beyond that age, it may be strengthened.
There are two methods for treating tongue thrusting. The patient may place an appliance similar to a nightguard in the mouth at night, or may wear a more permanent device that can be removed and adjusted by a dentist. The other method requires oral habit training, an exercise technique that re-educates the muscles associated with swallowing by changing the swallowing pattern. This method must be taught by a trained therapist. Therapy has proven to give the highest percentage of favorable results; however, the appliance is still used and is successful in some cases.