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Causes of Thumb Sucking | Effects | Treatments for Child

Thumb sucking is usually involved placing the thumb into the mouth and rhythmically repeating sucking contact for a prolonged duration.

How does the Thumb Sucking begin?

At birth, a baby will reflexively suck any object placed in the mouth; this is the sucking reflex responsible for breastfeeding. from the very first time they engage in nutritive feeding, infants learn that the habit. It does not only provide valuable nourishment, but also a great deal of pleasure, comfort, and warmth.

As the child grows older and is eventually weaned off the nutritional sucking, they can either develop alternative means for receiving those same feelings by beginning to suck their thumb or finger.

Thumb Sucking Causes:

Wondering, what is the cause of thumbsucking? Why and how it starts in Kids?  Thumb sucking is observed when the child is Tired, Screed, and Bored. There are times when a child feels sick or sleepy or when trying to adjust at new places such as preschool and daycare, Kids will start to do Thumb Sucking.

thumb suckingVarious theories are given by different people to explain the thumb-sucking habit.

  1. Psychoanalytical theory
  2. Oral drive theory
  3. Learning theory
  4. Root reflex theory

Psychoanalytical theory of Thumb Sucking: Proposed by S.FREUD.

When kids feel more of insecurity or some underlying disturbances they will addict to Thumb sucking. Even stress can cause thumb-sucking habits for kids. If we try to break the habit without eliminating the underlying cause then the thumb sucking is substituted by some other antisocial activity.

Oral Drive theory of Thumb Sucking: Proposed by SEARS & WISE

When kids are exposed more to the Prolongation of nursing or Strengthen the oral drive Thumb Sucking appears. To satisfy the oral drive child starts with thumb sucking.

Learning theory:

Based on this theory the cause of thumb sucking is adaptive psychological cause. This is acquired as a result of learning.

Root reflex theory: Proposed by BENJAMEIN.

Root reflex irks the movement of the infant’s head and tongue towards an object touching his cheek. the object is usually the mother’s breast but may also be a finger or a pacifier. This reflex disappears in normal infants around 7-8 months of age.

Phases of Development:

Phase1:-normal & sub clinically significant seen in the first 3 years of life

Phase2:-clinically indicates that the child is under great anxiety.

Phase3:-intractable sucking. Thumb sucking persisting beyond the 4th or 5th year of life.

Effects of Thumb Sucking:
  • Changes in the dental arch and supporting tissues
  • The severity of malocclusion depends on
    • Duration-the amount of the time spent for thumb sucking
    • Frequency-number of times the habit is activated in a day
    • Intensity-the vigor with which the habit is performed.
  • Damage to teeth from thumbsucking

Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have dental problems than children who suck aggressively.

  • Labial tipping of upper front teeth results in proclination
  • Increased overjet
  • The cheek muscles contract during thumb sucking resulting in a narrow maxillary arch which can cause the posterior crossbite.
  • The child may get tongue thrust habit as a result of the open bite.
  • Thumb becomes red and chopped.

Thumb Sucking Treatment:


The parents should be counseled to provide the child with adequate love and effection.the child’s attention should be diverted to other things such as playing with toys.

  • Motivate the child to break the habit
  • Praise the child when he is not sucking his thumb
  • Avoid punishing or shaming the child
  • Distract the child with other activities that require both hands.

These are the easy ways to stop thumb-sucking without the involving any kind of Chemical and Mechanical aids. It is suggested to try the above ways to stop kids from thumbsucking in the initial stages.

Chemical approach:

The use of bitter-tasting or foul-smelling preparation placed on the thumb that is sucked can make the habit distasteful. ex: asafetida, quinine.

Mechanical aids to stop thumb sucking:

A dentist will give mechanical aids to break the habit. These are 2 types

  • Removable:-passive removable appliance consists of a crib and is anchored on the posterior teeth by means of clasps
  • Fixed:-heavy gauge stainless steel wire can be designed to form a frame that is soldered to bands on the molars..

Bandaging the Thumb and Elbow

Thumb guard:-it is a device with a plastic cover of the thumb that is attached to a child’s wrist. this guard interrupts the process by breaking the vacuum created by sucking, thus removing the child’s pleasure.

Also, there are plenty of Kits available for kids to stop the habit of thumb sucking. You can buy through Amazon

Dental Health Guide, Providing information on dental care and dental hygiene along with detailing the most common dental diseases with symptoms and treatment methods. Readers should use the dental articles as reference only and consult a dentist and visit a dental clinic for dental health problems.

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