In this article we explore the long term risks of thumb/finger or dummy sucking as well six tips on how to help break the habit.
Some children find it soothing to suck on a finger, thumb or dummy. This is a healthy and normal, and most children give up by the time they turn four.
However, some take longer to kick the habit. Long-term dummy use or thumb and finger sucking beyond the age of four may lead to:
- Incorrect positioning of your child’s teeth – for example, the upper teeth may be pushed forward, affecting the bite
- Mouth breathing – your child may tend to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose. This is often linked to long-term dribbling
- Speech and language problems – having a dummy in the mouth may limit your child’s opportunity to explore the full range of tongue movements needed to make all the speech sounds
- Tooth decay – this can happen if the dummy is dipped in sugary substances such as honey or jam
6 tips to help break your child’s dummy, thumb or finger sucking habit:
Trying to stop dummy use suddenly is not recommended as it may lead to other habits such as thumb or finger sucking
You might start by limiting the use of a dummy to certain times, for example only at bed or nap times. The dummy may be gently taken away when the child goes to sleep. This helps form the habit of sleeping without dummy sucking. Your child may need extra support and comforting during this period of change
Reward your child through praise or a hug. You might like to take them on a surprise outing, give them a special privilege or toy as a reward for breaking the habit for a certain amount of time. But remember, food should not be offered as a reward
Offer encouragement and be patient as your child works to break the habit
Try to limit nagging as this may be counter-productive. Children must control the habit and if children feel they are being nagged they may become defensive. A good strategy is to offer occasional comments or reminders, which bring the sucking activity to your child’s attention
Thumb and finger sucking can be more difficult to stop because you can’t remove the source! So, try giving your child a mitten or use unpleasant-tasting nail paint (available from pharmacies). Keeping children’s hands busy playing with toys and books can be a good distraction
Remember, it might take several attempts for the sucking habit to stop. And, your child’s first days without sucking will be the most difficult, so patience is key. If the habit continues into the pre-school years, seek advice from your oral health professional.
For more information and support:
- Talk to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse
- See your oral health professional
- Read these Raising Children Network guidelines
It’s harder for children older than one to give up the dummy than it is for babies younger than 12 months
Studies of thumb suckers show it’s harder to break their habit than dummy suckers
* This information is courtesy of Dental Health Services Victoria.