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4 Surprising Statistics About Thumb and Finger Sucking

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Thumb or finger sucking is a natural way for young children to soothe themselves in times of stress or anxiety. In fact, according to the University of Chicago Pediatrics Clerkship, approximately 80 percent of normal infants and children suck their thumbs at some point. Here are four surprising statistics about thumb and finger sucking.

Most Children Quit Sucking Their Thumbs on Their Own

By the age of 1, 30 percent of thumb-sucking children are still engaging in the habit, but most kids spontaneously quit the habit by the age of 4, with only 12 percent persisting in thumb sucking at that age. Some adults continue to engage in thumb- or finger-sucking behavior, although the exact percentage remains unknown.

Thumb Sucking May Have Immune System Benefits

The “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that excessive vigilance about cleanliness may impair a child’s developing immune system. Children who persist in thumb sucking at the age of 5 and beyond are less likely to suffer common allergies and asthma than those who have already quit sucking their thumbs.

Kids who grow up on farms, in rural areas, or in large families, for example, have greater exposure to a variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and allergens. As a result, their immune systems are challenged at a greater rate than that of a child who lives in a hyper-clean home.

Toddlers Suck Their Thumbs When Awake

Up to age 1, thumb sucking occurs more often during sleep. After age 1, children who suck their thumbs do it more often during the day, often in response to stress or boredom.

Parents want to know how to stop finger sucking because children who engage in it after their primary teeth come in are at risk of developing tooth issues. These can include misalignment, damage to the roof of the mouth, and deformation of the shape of the mouth. Prolonged thumb and finger sucking can cause blistering or hyperkeratosis, which is a thickening and hardening of the skin on and around the thumb.

More Girls Suck Their Thumbs Than Boys After Age 1

Until age 1, there is no gender difference in thumb sucking. However, after age 1, girls are more likely to persist in thumb sucking than boys. Researchers don’t know why, but it may relate to girls’ heightened sensitivity in the mouth or a greater “orality” in girls.

These surprising facts about thumb sucking reveal that thumb sucking is more beneficial than many people believe, as it can decrease stress and reduce the incidence of allergies. But prolonged thumb sucking can cause harm to a child’s developing mouth. If you are concerned about your child’s thumb- or finger-sucking habits, it’s best to speak with their pediatrician or dentist.