Ask a Dentist

Q: My 4-year-old is still sucking her thumb. How do I help her stop?

A: Kicking the thumb-sucking habit is challenging but not impossible. The good news is any emerging dental problems created by thumb-sucking are reversible at her age.As you may already know, thumb-sucking leads to dental problems. Your child is putting pressure on the roof of her mouth, upper jaw, and permanent teeth coming in. This may lead to mouth narrowing, crooked teeth, speech impediment, or protruding teeth (‘buck teeth’).Peer pressure at school might encourage her to stop. At home, stay calm and patient. Praise her when she doesn’t suck her thumb. Point it out when she does. Set activities for her to do that keep her busy. Ask her how she’s feeling. Teach her how to cope with disappointment. Get her to dance, listen to music, or draw when she’s feeling blue. Thumb-sucking could be a coping mechanism for emotional distress. Use reinforcements such as treats or prizes when she doesn’t suck her thumb.If these methods don’t work, talk to your dentist. They may be able to help. Each child needs something different. A little outside support might go a long way.