Adult Thumb Sucking: How To Break The Habit

October 26, 2018 by Dr. Andrew Smyth  •  Original Post

Article by: by Amy Freeman

Do you remember when you stopped sucking your thumb? As Johns Hopkins Medicine points out, thumb sucking is a common childhood habit that starts early. Nearly nine out of 10 babies start to suck on their thumb or another part of their hands just hours after birth. For some people, the behavior continues through adulthood.

While thumb sucking isn't an issue in babies or young children, adult thumb sucking may be embarrassing and in some cases may pose oral health problems. Whether you're an adult who sucks their thumb or know someone who does, here's what you need to know about the habit and how to address it.

Why Do People Suck Their Thumbs?

Thumb sucking in infants and young children is a natural impulse. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that sucking on thumbs, fingers or pacifiers may help calm babies and young children because it makes them feel secure and safe.

Thumb sucking is so common in early childhood that the National Institutes of Health advises parents not to feel too concerned about a young child who sucks their thumb. Usually, children stop thumb sucking on their own around the age of 3 or 4. Kids who continue sucking their thumbs might give up the habit when they start school and meet peers who have stopped.

Thumb Sucking in Adults

While most children outgrow or stop thumb sucking by the age of 5, some people continue into adulthood. There's little research or data on adult thumb sucking, notes Psychology Today. This could be because people may hide the habit when they reach a certain age. Adults who suck their thumbs might do so in the privacy of their homes rather than when they are out and about due to fear of social judgment. In some cases, adult thumb sucking may be considered a symptom of a disorder.

Thumb sucking in children doesn't usually cause major dental problems so long as they still have their baby teeth. Issues arise when individuals suck their thumb after their permanent teeth have developed. According to the ADA, thumb sucking may interfere with the alignment of the permanent teeth and affect the roof of the mouth. If a person has misaligned their teeth due to thumb sucking, they may need to seek orthodontic treatment.

How to Stop Sucking Your Thumb

While there are a number of resources on helping a child break a thumb sucking habit, there are fewer aimed at adults who suck their thumbs. Some adults who have talked about their former habit, such as a woman describing her experience in Entrepreneur, state that they were able to give it up cold turkey. However, dealing with a thumb sucking habit is a personal decision, and you should feel empowered to handle the situation in a way that works for you.

If you are looking to make a change, one method of training yourself to stop sucking your thumb is to cover your thumb. For example, you can put a stocking or glove over your thumb so that when you go to put your thumb in your mouth, the glove or stocking gets in the way and reminds you that you are trying to break your habit.

If you're concerned that sucking your thumb has affected your teeth, your dentist can recommend proper corrective treatments. In cases where thumb sucking is connected to anxiety or another condition, working with a therapist may help you pinpoint what drives the habit and develop a plan that fits your individual needs and concerns.

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