Thumb Sucking - the less comforting side

It is an expensive habit.


All the dentists I have spoken to agree that prolonged thumb or finger sucking habits are detrimental to both a child’s teeth and their jaw. Added to this a G.P friend highlighted the risks of Paronychia. For parents of thumb sucking children, the outlook might include some rather unpleasant future orthodontist’s bills too.

The reason bills are high is because generally braces are used to correct overbite and other malocclusions. My son’s braces adjusted his bite over time which then improved his facial appearance. We also found that his speech and self-esteem improved. However, he had to attend multiple dental check-ups and visits to the orthodontist.  

He was lucky. Depending upon the severity of the situation, sometimes headgear and elastics are the best course of action to take. They help the upper jaw to match with the lower jaw.

We are more concerned about our younger son. A severe overbite can require surgical intervention. He has certainly got a severe overbite. We know costs vary depending upon the age of the individual and the treatment needed. Now we are waiting to find out if the severity of the bills will match his bite.

Having emigrated from England to New Zealand, we discovered how treatments vary between both practices and between countries. We discovered this when our son paid his first visit to the dentist after we arrived in Christchurch. He had already endured two years of treatment in the U.K. Then the Kiwi dentist advised it would cost a further $5,000 for the next stage in his dental correction. This included ten more months of treatment. If only we had known when he continued to suck his thumb, what we know now. Having spent so long in braces already, our son (who is now 16) had hoped to be rid of his wire filled smile.

Early benefits of thumb sucking

Of course, it is also widely accepted that early thumb sucking is not such a bad thing. Whilst not all babies develop the habit, sucking, assists with an important function in child development. This is regardless of whether the child sucked a pacifier, thumb, or otherwise,   In particular, the habit helps infants to self soothe at times of stress and at bedtime. This benefits not only the little one but often the exhausted parents too.

As parents of eight children, our experience agrees with the views of pediatricians, child experts, parents, and carers. With our self-soothing children, we avoided the night time issues we endured with our non-thumb-sucking children. I remember with a particular lack of fondness, curling up on the floor next to the cot for hours, willing my baby daughter to doze off. The adrenaline rush followed, brought on by our attempting to cross creaky floorboards. I was like a ninja warrior escaping the nursery without waking my child.

Prolonged thumb or finger sucking

Problems tend to arise when children are still turning to their sucking habit past four years of age. A lot does depend however, on how your child sucks on their thumb or finger. A child who simply rests the thumb in the mouth is less likely to develop problems. Children who suck on their digits vigorously tend to continue the habit and develop problems.

If your child is still turning to their thumb past age four, it is advisable to persuade them to break the habit. Try to do this before any physical or social problems can develop.


I have discussed in other posts how thumb sucking may force a child’s front teeth to protrude. Known as an overbite or more commonly, buck teeth, this is the problem suffered by two of my children. Problems were identified before we created our thumb guards. However, children who are persistent thumb suckers may also develop open bite. This means they have a sizeable gap between their clenched teeth. Another issue is crossbite. This is the narrowing of the roof of the mouth which prevents the correct growth of the upper jaw.

All malocclusion have the potential to alter a child’s facial appearance as well as leading to speech defects. Correcting these issues is, as previously mentioned, also likely to cause an extremely large hole in the bank balance. 

Skin and bones

 Even when your child’s sucking habit does not affect the teeth, the bones of their sucked digits may still become deformed, requiring corrective surgery. This is because the habit can actually push the bones at the end of the thumb or fingers sideways. Plus the skin on their hands, being frequently immersed in the digestive enzyme of saliva, will be more prone to cracking, chapping and infection.


Whilst it is a less common side effect, Paronychia is of particular concern for many parents. The infection can be acute which means it lasts less than six weeks or chronic which means the infection lasts longer.

This painful infection, (also known as whitlow), occurs when there is a break in the skin around the nail plate which allows bacteria to enter the eponychial space.  You can identify Paronychia when you see inflammation, pus, and tenderness around the nail area. Whilst Paronychia is not usually serious and is treatable at home, occasionally a deeper infection requiring a doctor’s intervention may develop.

Acute Paronychia is more likely to occur where the thumb or finger has become chapped and cracked. Take infections seriously. When left untreated infection can spread causing cellulitis or infectious tendinitis. However, if the infection is in its early stages it is possible to treat the condition at home, often by soaking the infected nail in warm water several times throughout the day.  This should encourage the healing process. However, this is far more easily said than done with young children. As such, prevention is certainly better than cure.

In the case of chronic Paronychia, nail dystrophy may develop. This causes the nails to become ridged, distorted and brittle. They may also become discoloured. Following successful treatment of the infection, it is likely to take a year or more for the nail to return to normal.

Thumb guards and finger guards

We have provided thumb guards on several occasions to children suffering from painful infections such as Paronychia. Moving stories from the parents, who were desperately searching for a solution have also touched us. In the case of diabetic children, such infections have had severe consequences. Therefore it is important to avoid injuring the nails and the skin around them through habits such as persistent thumb sucking, nail picking and skin picking.

If your child is ready or needs to stop, there are many options you can try in order to discourage your child’s habit, whether it be thumb sucking or nail and skin picking. There are a variety of different thumb guards available, with materials ranging from plastic, wool or leather to the softer cotton fabrics we use. You might also decide to try the various bitter tasting potions which you paint on your child’s nails. Reward carts are a further option. The important thing is to find a method that works for you and your child. 

Our thumb and finger guards are individually made to the particular specifications of your child. The outer wrapping is made from colorful cotton fabrics (we have several designs for your child to choose from) and the inner lining is made from soft jersey fabric. The guards come with a choice of fastenings depending upon the child’s needs.

If your child has specific requirements not included within our range, please do contact us and we will work with you to meet your child’s needs.

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