Summary

  • Children usually stop thumb and finger sucking between two and four years of age.
  • Thumb and finger sucking after seven years of age may cause dental problems.
  • It takes patience to help your child stop the habit.
  • Rewarding your child for not thumb or finger sucking may help.
Sucking on fingers or thumbs is healthy and normal when children are young. Most children stop somewhere between two and four years of age.

Thumb or finger sucking is not usually a problem while a child has their baby teeth. However, dental problems may occur if this behaviour continues when the permanent teeth begin to come through, at around five or six years of age, or earlier.

Problems caused by thumb or finger sucking

Long-time thumb sucking may lead to:
  • an over bite (buck teeth) – for example, the front teeth may be pushed further forward that normal. This can change the shape of the face
  • an open bite – when the top and bottom teeth don’t meet. With teeth together you would expect top and bottom teeth to overlap a little bit. If there is a gap between them where the teeth could poke through, this could be an open bite
  • a lisp – pre-school children who suck their fingers and thumbs can push their teeth out of their normal position. This interferes with the correct formation of certain speech sounds.

Helping children stop the habit

Most children stop sucking their fingers or thumb somewhere between two and four years of age. Give your child the chance to stop their habit when they are ready. Support and encouragement from parents is important.

Depending on your child’s age and ability, you might like to:
  • give lots of encouragement – for example, with a hug or praise to show that they’re doing something good by trying to stop
  • use distractions – entertain them with a toy or give them a cuddle to distract them from sucking
  • try not to nag – if children feel they are being nagged, they may become angry and continue the habit
  • show their progress– give a special outing or a toy if the child goes for a certain period without sucking. You can gradually stretch out the period from one night to a week, and then to 30 days.
  • use reminders – give children who suck their thumb or finger a glove to wear as a reminder not to suck. The child must be willing to stop for this to work.
Children can easily drift back to their old habit and it may take some time before the habit is completely broken. Keep trying gently, but firmly. Be patient, as the first few days are usually the worst.

Where to get help

Your maternal and child health nurse

  • Community dental clinics:
  • The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne:
    • General enquiries or to make an appointment Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 outside Melbourne metro 8.30 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday
    • Dental emergencies Tel. 1300 360 054 8.30 am to 9.15 pm, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 9.15 pm, weekends and public holidays
  • Your private dental clinic:
  • Orthodontist

Things to remember

  • Thumb or finger sucking is not a problem for oral health in the very early years, but should be stopped before the permanent teeth come through (around five or six years of age).
  • Children usually stop thumb or finger sucking habits between two and four years of age.
  • Help your child to stop with support and encouragement.
References

More information

Mouth and teeth

The following content is displayed as Tabs. Once you have activated a link navigate to the end of the list to view its associated content. The activated link is defined as Active Tab

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Dental Health Services Victoria

Last updated: April 2015

Page content currently being reviewed.

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.