Pacifiers, Thumb and Finger Habits

What causes thumb sucking and finger habits?

When a baby is born, they have a strong intuitive reflex to breastfeed and/or feed from a bottle. This sucking reflex is natural. Even when not feeding, babies (and parents) quickly discover that pacifiers, thumbs, or fingers are also very soothing. They mimic the sucking pattern of nursing and bottle feeling, hence are familiar and instinctive. They are a common and normal part of infancy.

As a baby grows in toddlerhood, we are often asked when to phase a child off their pacifier and when to worry about digit habits. The main factor is the habit’s effect on your child’s oral growth and development. Though genetics are a major factor, prolonged habits can lead to orthodontic problems: These include narrowing of their palate and an anterior open bite.

When stopped by the right time, these issues may self-correct and normal growth can continue. The longer a habit persists, the more likely orthodontic treatment will be needed in the future. When the permanent teeth start to erupt (usually around age 6), they can be affected too.

Generally speaking, pacifiers are much easier to manage than thumb and finger habits. When the time is right, your child can be weaned off within a couple of weeks and your child’s yearning for the pacifier fades. However, it is much harder to stop a thumb habit.

How You Can Help Your Child Get Through Thumb Sucking

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Your child's internal motivation to stop is the most important factor to stop the habit.

  • When motivated, our interceptive methods are a positive reminder
  • If not motivated, all strategies will act as negative reinforcers – making the habit stronger
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Consider a sticker calendar: Place a sticker for every day that your child doesn't suck their thumb. Once they reach 30 consecutive days they can enjoy a big reward!

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Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.

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Remind your child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on their hand at night.

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Allow us to help encourage your child to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.

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When permanent teeth start erupting, your Stellar Kids pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a simple mouth appliance.

Thumb Love

by Elise Primavera


4420 106th St. SW
Mukilteo, WA 98275
T: (425) 341-7827


111 SE Everett Mall Way, Ste. D
Everett, WA 98208
T: (425) 341-7827

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13209 44th Ave SE, Ste. 101
Mill Creek, WA 98012
T: (425) 341-7827

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