The Problems with Sucking

Guest blog from multi award winning Jo Bates, the mastermind behind Thumbsie.

The Thumbsie® is a gentle and effective way of giving up thumb or finger sucking.

Sucking is a natural source of comfort for children; sucking on thumbs, fingers and dummies makes babies and young children feel secure and happy.  Children often suck their thumb or finger right from birth and there are even images of babies sucking digits in the womb – perhaps your child is one of those.  The habit is most often displayed when children are bored, tired or anxious as sucking brings comfort, reassurance and relaxation. 

Most children stop sucking by the time they are 4 or 5 years of age, and this normally happens quite naturally without too much encouragement.  However, sucking either a digit or a dummy in children older than this, as every dentist knows, can have a detrimental effect on the development of children’s teeth and mouth. 

The Thumbsie® is a gentle and effective way of giving up sucking which reinforces positive behaviour.

Thumb or finger sucking can be a very difficult habit to break, no matter how much the child wants to give up.  Giving up sucking a dummy is considered easier as it can be exchanged for a reward and physically simply removed so that they can’t use it again.  Facilities like the Growing Smiles Dummy Tree also offer support to help to give that dummy away.  Sucking a finger or thumb can cause more problems than a dummy as you can’t remove the digit!  The habit is one that can cause lifelong dental problems, which may only be solved through orthodontic or surgical treatment.

When thumb or finger sucking starts (normally from birth) a baby’s bones are very soft and still forming, so this means that if the soft palate is constantly pushed upward by the thumb or finger it malforms.  Alarmingly, if continued for a long time, the habit can also change the growth of the face and it can cause the collapse of the upper jaw. It stops the teeth from biting together at the front, this can then lead to other problems, most commonly the upper front teeth being prominent, which in turn affects speech and the bite of the teeth.  It is more difficult to correct malocclusion (irregular contact of upper and lower jaw) caused by thumb sucking.

By the time a child starts school, thumb or finger sucking may also cause social anxiety and embarrassment, and a fear of being thought of as ‘babyish’ by older children.  Children who suck their fingers or thumb in class often lose concentration and ‘zone out’; they stop when reminded by staff, but the cycle normally quickly repeats itself.

Thumb and finger sucking inevitably means that a child is constantly putting potentially dirty digits into their mouth.  While some may argue that exposing a child to germs improves their immune system, thumb and finger sucking increases the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria.

Problems caused by thumb sucking:

  • Teeth don’t bite together
  • Protruding teeth
  • Speech problems
  • Chewing problems
  • Malformation of the jaw
  • Sore skin around the mouth and on digits
  • Social anxiety/embarrassment
  • Lack of concentration or ‘zoning out’
  • Hygiene issues
  • Stress and upset trying to break an intractable habit

Giving Up Sucking

Trying to help a child to stop sucking can be stressful for the whole family.  The Thumbsie® is a solution which Jo Bates masterminded when her own daughter found giving up sucking a very stressful and difficult problem.  The Thumbsie® is a gentle and effective way of giving up sucking which reinforces positive behaviour and offers a kind solution taking the stress out of giving up.  Thumbsie® is a holistic solution to stopping sucking and the website includes lots of useful information about giving up sucking as well as customer stories which show how successful the product has been for them.  Thumbsie® also offers these tips to stop sucking:

  • Be positive and reward ‘good’ behaviour, perhaps using a reward chart, lots of praise or special treats
  • Be consistent – even if that is hard at trigger points like bedtime or long car journeys
  • Gently draw attention to the habit if your child doesn’t always realise that they are sucking; it can be quite an unconscious action
  • Remove any items associate with sucking, like a blanket or soft toy
  • Try not to shout or lose your patience, this can simply lead to more comfort sucking
  • Anticipate the triggers around sucking, for instance watching TV, and find a way of distracting them from the habit
  • Explain why sucking is potentially damaging to teeth, and perhaps plan a visit to the dentist so that he or she can explain the implication of sucking
  • Sensitively show your child internet images of the damage that sucking can cause to teeth
  • Involve your family or child’s carers/teachers to help reinforce your efforts
  • Use a physical barrier to stop a child sucking, such as a thumb glove, like Thumbsie®
  • Make sure that any barrier you use fits properly and stops them from sucking
  • If you decide to use a Thumbsie® involve your child in the choice of fabrics for their thumb guard.  There are lots of fun designs to choose from and most children are really excited by being part of the process and fully commit to trying to give up
  • Try the Thumbsie® book and reward chart which has proven to be the most successful combination for giving up
  • Keep at it – any solution can take a few weeks, and it’s all too easy to give up too quickly.  It can take up to 3 weeks or more to crack the habit even with a Thumbsie®

Award-winning Thumbsie® is a cotton fabric thumb guard that fits like a glove over the thumb or fingers and is secured around the wrist with Velcro.  The glove is available in five sizes and can be purchased in a fabric of the child’s choice as seen on the website.  It can be used as either a thumb or finger guard to deter sucking of any digit.  Thumbsies® come with a free success certificate and you can even buy their book, ‘Thumbs Up for Ted’s Thumbsie’ to help your child to give up sucking.  For more information go to

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