It is natural for babies to suck. It is how they nourish and soothe themselves. Thumb and pacifier habits are generally only a problem if they continue for long periods of time. Most children stop on their own before the permanent teeth come in. If the habit keeps up after the permanent teeth come in, there may be problems with how the jaw and teeth develop.

Thoughts on Pacifiers

  • Pacifiers are sometimes given to infants at rest and sleep times or at other times when the baby has been fed but still wants to continue sucking.
  • If you notice your child beginning to suck their fingers or thumbs during the first 3 months of life, you can introduce your child to a pacifier. Pacifiers are a good alternative for infants that want to suck their fingers or thumb, because when it is time to break the habit, you can throw the pacifier away.
  • Check the pacifier daily. They do not last forever. If it is sticky, cracked or torn, throw it away. A damaged pacifier is a choking hazard.
  • Once your child is able to walk, limit the pacifier to sleep time or times when your child is very upset and needs comforting. Using pacifiers too often at this age may interfere with speech and language development.
  • You can infect your baby’s mouth with germs that cause tooth decay if you put the baby’s pacifier in your own mouth to clean it. Clean the pacifier daily as you would your child’s bottles and dishes.
  • Pacifiers dipped in honey or other sweet substances can cause tooth decay.

Tips for Breaking Thumb or Finger Sucking Habits

  • Children should be encouraged to give up the habit once the permanent teeth start erupting.
  • If your child is not willing to give up their habit, be aware that any pressure you apply to make them stop may only lead to resistance and lack of cooperation. Try again later.
  • Give your child attention and understanding and gently discourage the habit. Reminders such as a bandage on the thumb can help.
  • Offer rewards, like a star on a chart or an extra story, for days when your child is successful. Praise your child when they are successful.
  • Help your child to give up the sucking habit during sleep. This is usually an involuntary process and a glove, sock, or thumb/finger guard can help stop the habit.
  • Take one step at a time. Encourage your child not to suck during one daytime activity, like story time or television watching. Gradually add another activity until daytime sucking is eliminated.
  • If your child is still regularly sucking their thumb at age 6, see your dentist or doctor for further support.