Why You Shouldn't Worry About Your Kid's Thumb Sucking

by Shannon Evans

Parents have a million things to freak out over, don't they? In addition to the advice of the generations before you, you're now faced with the endless sea of internet information as well, to the point that it seems you're confronted with a new danger or fear every single day. For many parents, their child's habit of sucking their thumb has been one cause of endless conflict and anxiety. But maybe it's all for naught. Turns out, there are some reasons why you shouldn't worry about your kid's thumb-sucking.

In an article in Psychology Today, Susan Heitler, Ph.D. and author of David Decides About Thumbsucking explained what she learned through research on her quest to help her own son stop sucking his thumb. Heitler concluded that until the age of 5, thumb-sucking is considered socially appropriate and, since a child's teeth up to this age are not permanent anyway, no long-term harm is done. It's after this age, or when the child begins losing teeth and gaining new ones, that continued thumb-sucking may be problematic as misshapen adult teeth will cause orthodontic damage.

But many parents, myself included, have been under the impression that even a 3-year-old's thumb-sucking habit can cause long term damage. Under Heitler's common sense reasoning, that theory is completely false.

Stan Spinner, M.D., the chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics in Houston is in agreement. Spinner told Parents Magazine, "As long as your child is developing normal language skills at the appropriate time, doctors usually tell parents not to worry about thumb-sucking during the first few years of life." His assessment mirrored that of Heitler's: Most kids kick the habit on their own by age 5 or 6, and before they have permanent teeth there is no cause for concern.

Of course, some children will struggle to break the habit even after permanent teeth begin coming in. If that's your 8-year-old, it's time to talk to your pediatrician and dentist to come up with a game plan. But if it's your toddler whose thumb-sucking you're worried about, save yourself the fret and enjoy the moment of silence it affords you.