Breaking the Digit Sucking Habit

Digit sucking is a habit that occurs in infants that they usually give up by the age of four. This form of self-soothing has also been found to be used by fetuses in utero. It is very common and should not cause alarm unless the habit is not broken by the time the child’s permanent start to erupt.

Long-term Effects

If a child continues to suck their thumb or fingers past the time that their permanent teeth start to erupt, they may develop crooked teeth and a malformed roof of their mouth. Digit sucking can also affect the position of the upper and lower jaw as well as speech. It is estimated that 60% of dental problems are caused by this habit.

Breaking the Habit

Most children are able to get past the need to suck their thumb without much intervention, but for the cases in which digit sucking persists, more direct approaches can be used.

  • Wait until the time is right: Because digit sucking is a form of self-soothing, it is important to wait until a low-stress time to begin breaking the habit
  • Stop them when you see them: A simple method to help break the habit is to stop your child when you see them. Bring this habit to their attention helps make them more conscious of the behavior and assists in ending it.
  • Motivate your child: By showing your child examples of what could happen to teeth and fingers when digit sucking persists, you can help deter your child’s behavior.
  • Use positive reinforcement: By using positive reinforcement, your child will be encouraged to stop digit sucking and stick with it. Positive reinforcement should be a reward system of small incentives that you find the best work for your child.
  • See a doctor: If you have tried everything and nothing is working, see your child’s pediatric dentist.