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What You Really Need To Know About Thumbsucking

What You Really Need To Know About Thumbsucking

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Thumb sucking, a seemingly innocent habit, is a common occurrence among children. It often begins early in life, with approximately 90% of newborns showing some form of hand sucking within hours of birth. While thumb sucking is a normal part of development, if sustained for too long, it can lead to various health concerns, including the development of tongue thrust.


For most children, thumb sucking ceases on its own from as early as seven months to between the ages of two to four. If your child falls somewhere below the age of two, it likely isn’t of concern yet. For children approaching four years old, thumb sucking that is frequent and not when under heavy stress may cause trouble.

In this article, we will delve into the world of thumbsucking and explore its potential impact on your child's oral health and development. We will also discuss what tongue thrust is and how it can persist even after thumb sucking ceases.

So, if you're a concerned parent seeking clarity and guidance on this topic, read on to discover what you really need to know about thumbsucking.

The Habit Of Thumbsucking

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that provides comfort and security to infants. They find solace in the rhythmic motion and soothing sensation created by sucking their thumb or fingers. Many children eventually outgrow this habit on their own as they develop alternative coping mechanisms or find other sources of comfort.

However, for some children, thumbsucking becomes more than just a temporary soothing technique. It can evolve into an ingrained habit that persists beyond infancy and toddlerhood, potentially leading to dental problems and other related issues.

Health Concerns Associated With Thumbsucking

While occasional thumb sucking may not cause significant harm, prolonged or intense thumbsucking can have consequences for your child's oral health:

  • Dental Misalignment: Vigorous thumbsucking over an extended period can exert pressure on the developing teeth and jawbone. This pressure can push the teeth out of alignment or result in an open bite where the upper and lower teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed.
  • Speech Impediments: Thumb sucking affects the position of the tongue during speech development, which can lead to lisping or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds.
  • Tongue Thrust: One of the potential complications arising from thumbsucking is tongue thrust, a swallowing pattern where the tongue pushes forward against the front teeth instead of resting on the roof of the mouth. Tongue thrust can persist even after a child stops thumb sucking and may require professional intervention for correction.

Understanding Tongue Thrust

Tongue thrust, also known as orofacial muscle imbalance or reverse swallow, occurs when there is an incorrect swallowing pattern that negatively affects the alignment of teeth and proper oral function. It involves pushing the tongue against or between the teeth during swallowing, speaking, or even at rest.

A child with tongue thrust may exhibit certain signs and symptoms:

  • The tip of their tongue protrudes between their front teeth during speech or at rest.
  • They have difficulty swallowing without pushing their tongue forward.
  • Lisping or other speech impediments may be present.
  • Dental misalignment such as an open bite or overjet (protrusion of upper front teeth).

If you suspect your child has tongue thrust, it's important to seek professional guidance. IJustWantTo® Correct My Tongue Thrust offers a specialized, non-invasive exercise program that helps treat tongue thrust in children and adults who have experienced negative effects from thumb sucking.

Effective Strategies For Breaking The Thumbsucking Habit

If you're concerned about your child's thumbsucking habit, there are several proven strategies you can try to help them break it:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Offer genuine praise or small rewards, such as stickers or extra playtime, when your child refrains from thumb sucking. This positive reinforcement can motivate and encourage them to continue their progress.
  • Distraction Techniques: Provide alternative activities or toys that can keep their hands occupied and divert their attention away from thumb sucking. For example, you can introduce puzzles, coloring books, or fidget toys to engage their hands in a more constructive way.
  • Open Discussion: Talk openly with your child about the potential consequences of thumbsucking in a manner that they can understand. Use age-appropriate language to explain how it can impact their dental health, such as causing misalignment or affecting the growth of their teeth. By involving them in the conversation, they can develop a better understanding of why breaking the habit is important.
  • Establish a Routine: Create a consistent routine with designated times for thumb sucking. Gradually reduce the duration of those designated times, helping your child gradually wean off the habit. For instance, you can start by limiting thumb sucking to specific times of the day and gradually shorten those time intervals until the habit is eliminated completely.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: If you find it challenging to break the habit on your own, it may be beneficial to consult with a pediatric dentist or therapist who specializes in thumbsucking cessation. They can provide expert guidance tailored to your child's specific needs and offer additional strategies or techniques that can assist in overcoming the habit effectively.

By implementing these strategies and providing gentle guidance and support, you can help your child overcome their thumbsucking habit and mitigate any associated health concerns. Remember, patience and consistency are key in breaking this habit and nurturing your child's healthy development.

Thumbsucking, while initially a natural reflex for infants seeking comfort, can become a prolonged habit with potential consequences. Dental misalignment, speech impediments, and tongue thrust are among the health concerns that may arise from prolonged thumb sucking.

Tongue thrust, in particular, may require additional intervention and correction.

IJustWantTo® Correct My Tongue Thrust Seven-Week Exercise Program For Tongue Thrust Correction

If your child has developed tongue thrust from prolonged thumb sucking, our specialized seven-week exercise program provides a solution.

Our program is designed with non-invasive, engaging exercises to correct the swallowing pattern, retrain the muscles, and help the tongue regain its normal position.

Throughout the program, we encourage parents to actively participate and provide supportive feedback to their children. Regular follow-ups, even after the program, are recommended to reinforce the new swallowing habit and prevent reversion.

With consistent practice, patience, and dedication, our seven-week exercise program can help your child overcome tongue thrust, improving their oral health and confidence. Reach out to us today for more information!

Janet M. Bennett

Written by:

Janet Bennett, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, is a Speech Pathologist in private practice in Asheville, NC, since 1977. She specializes in treating tongue thrust, a swallowing disorder that can result in buckteeth, an open bite, a lisp, snoring, and other problems that have not yet been made known to most people.