Should I be concerned about thumb-sucking?

What does a baby do when tired or upset? Some babies will sound the alarm vocally while others turn to an age-old stress reliever: thumb-sucking. This primo pacification technique – which some babies first experiment with while floating around in the womb – can have an immediate calming effect. It’s also a reliable way for babies to start resolving tension on their own because, after all, their thumbs are always available. But since thumb-sucking is something all of us are expected to outgrow by childhood, parents may have reservations over how much they should indulge thumb-sucking before doing something about it.

Is thumb-sucking dangerous for babies?

According to the American Dental Association, thumb-sucking presents little risk of jaw or tooth damage. However, medical research has suggested that prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to tooth misalignment, changes in the roof of the mouth, or problems with mouth growth. That said, the majority of babies suck their thumbs, and the vast majority of these never experience any long-term effects.

How long should I wait it out?

As Baby develops into a walking, talking toddler, they will soon find more direct, proactive ways to comfort themself when hungry, scared, or in need of assistance. It’s unusual for children beyond the age 4 to continue thumb-sucking on a regular basis.

When should I do something about thumb-sucking?

If Baby is sucking their thumb forcefully, or if the thumb-sucking is still a habit after a few years, you should determine when each thumb-sucking session takes place. A well-timed distraction can offer Baby an attractive alternative to their thumb. Think about Baby’s motivation: if thumb-sucking happens when they are upset, try talking to and engaging them, or consider a slightly longer naptime if tiredness seems to bring on their thumb-sucking.

The bottom line

Thumb-sucking may seem like a big deal, but it’s a habit that most babies get over on their own time. It’s just one of the first self-soothing techniques that many babies learn!


  • “Thumb sucking: Helping your child break the habit.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, July 29 2015. Retrieved October 25 2017.
  • “Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use.” JADA, Vol. 138. American Dental Association, August 2007. Retrieved October 25 2017.
  • Barton D. Schmitt. “Thumbsucking.” Summit Medical Group. Summit Medical Group Foundation, 2014. Retrieved October 25 2017. 
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