Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Z

Print This Page

Thumbsucking

Information

Thumbsucking is a natural habit of infants and young children. They do it to soothe themselves. Children most often suck their thumb when they are hungry or tired.

Some parents are worried by thumbsucking and may even try to stop the infant or child. In most cases this is not needed. Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own by around age 1 or 2.

If thumbsucking continues after the child's permanent front teeth come in (most often by age 5), problems may develop. Pacifiers may cause some of the same problems and should be stopped by age 4.

When older children continue to suck their thumb, it could mean they are bored or feel insecure. Seek advice from your child's health care provider if you are concerned.

There is no "best" treatment when thumbsucking continues. However, these methods often work:

  • Praise your child for not sucking the thumb.
  • Find other ways to help your child find comfort and feel secure.
  • Work with the child to find a way to stop sucking the thumb.
  • Have your child's dentist or health care provider explain the reasons to stop sucking.

If these methods do not work, ask your dentist or health care provider about the following:

  • Use a bandage or thumb guard to help remind your child.
  • Use dental appliances (most often if your child's teeth and mouth are affected).
  • Place a bitter medication on the thumb, but be careful NOT to use something that may be poisonous to a small child.

References

Gleason MM, Boris NW, Dalton R. Habit and tic disorders. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 23.

Sexton S, Natale R. Risks and benefits of pacifiers. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:681-685.

Updated: 1/24/2011

Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com