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How To Treat Thumb-Sucking-Related Injuries

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Infants suck their thumbs as a way to soothe themselves. The sensation is familiar, like that of a bottle, nursing breast, or pacifier. It looks adorable when babies do it, but after a certain age, it becomes worrisome.

Thumb-sucking can create several developmental problems that become more serious as the child grows. On top of that, thumb-sucking isn’t benign: we know those little hands touch and grab anything within reach, from pet fur to chunks of chewed gum from heaven knows where.

In addition to germs, kids can suffer from physical injuries from thumb-sucking. These include blisters, bites, and deformation of the teeth and palate.

Over centuries, parents have devised all kinds of methods to try to discourage thumb-sucking, such as putting nasty-tasting (and maybe even toxic!) soap on thumbnails. But by the time parents resorted to that kind of Draconian measure, they couldn’t revert the damage.

If your child is an aggressive, determined thumb-sucker, a thumb-sucking glove can help break the habit. But until you can get one onto your child’s hand, you’ll need to know how to treat thumb-sucking injuries to minimize the damage your child may have already caused to their mouth, thumb, teeth, or entire body.


Blisters are a common thumb-sucking injury. If you’re lucky enough to catch a blister on your child’s thumb before it bursts, wash it gently with soap and water and pat it dry. Use ice to reduce any swelling. Also, try to ensure the blister doesn’t burst.

DO NOT use an adhesive bandage, which is a choking hazard for young children, and don’t apply any type of ointment, as these can be toxic if ingested. Do your best to keep the area clean and dry, and wait for time to heal it.

If the blister has burst, keep a careful eye out for signs of infection, like redness and swelling or a fever. If you suspect an infection, contact your pediatrician immediately.

Dental Deformation

If your child persists in sucking their thumb even after their permanent teeth have come in, they can cause misalignment of their teeth and damage the roof of their mouth.

Elementary-age kids can understand a simple explanation of the dangers of thumb-sucking. Explain to them the icky germs going into their mouths and how they could push their teeth into the wrong shape. Kids may respond to positive reinforcement, which includes rewards for refraining from thumb-sucking. You can also try substituting this habit for another form of comfort, like a stuffed animal, games, music, or toys.

You should have dental deformation treated as early as possible, preferably before all their permanent teeth have come in. That way, your dentist or orthodontist (if your child is old enough to visit an orthodontist) can recommend remedies, including dental devices that discourage thumb-sucking while maintaining the proper shape of the mouth, position of the teeth, and health of the palate.

A misshapen palate or misaligned teeth cause wear on teeth, problems in the mouth, and speech problems. These malformations can cause them to develop a lisp. In turn, this could require speech therapy to correct while your child is also trying to cope with dental work and the anxiety of starting school.

Kids can also develop sores in their mouths from aggressive thumb-sucking, so regular dental checkups are even more important for children with this habit.


All kids go through tummy aches, runny noses, and coughs. You know when your child is feeling less than 100 percent and when to check for fevers. But you may not have considered that thumb-sucking could be the source of your child’s upset stomach, fever, or diarrhea. Be vigilant about hand-washing for everyone in the household, but especially for thumb-sucking children.

Make sure your kids know how to wash their hands using a gentle soap. The pandemic had all of us singing “Happy Birthday” twice or the alphabet song while washing our hands, and it taught everyone how to be very thorough with hand-washing, including the spaces between fingers, on their wrists, and under their nails. Maintain that habit for everyone’s health, but especially for kids prone to sucking their thumbs.

Social Stigma

It may not seem like an “injury,” but the social stigma attached to thumb-sucking can do as much harm as a cut or an infection. By the time children reach school, most have outgrown the thumb-sucking habit. Those who haven’t can become the targets of bullying, ridicule, and ostracism from playground games.

With the separation anxiety that goes with starting school, some kids may revert to the comfort or nervous habit of sucking their thumbs. Work with your child’s teacher to come up with incentives, like a (private!) reward system for getting through the day without indulging in the habit.

Discussions about how “big kids” behave can also help if you sprinkle in praise and appreciation for how far the child has come and how grown up they are now. Big kids like them don’t suck their thumbs. But now that they’re in school, they have more grown-up things to do with their hands, like learning to write, making art, and playing musical instruments, not to mention raising their hands to show that they have the answer to a teacher’s question.

Helping Your Child Break the Habit

Thumb-sucking in toddlers and older kids is usually a sign of anxiety and stress. Be attentive to the times your child is sucking their thumb, and try to identify what triggers the behavior. You can ask your child in a gentle, non-confrontational way why they’re sucking their thumb at that moment. This may initiate a conversation where you can provide reassurance and comfort to your child about whatever is making them so anxious.

When you learn how to treat thumb-sucking injuries, you open the door to help your child learn why thumb-sucking is bad for them. You can gently motivate your child to abandon the habit in favor of becoming a “big kid” who sets a good example for their younger siblings.

When you motivate your child to stop sucking their thumb, they’ll be more accepting of using TGuard to break the habit quickly. TGuard removes the sense of suction when a child puts their thumb in their mouth, making thumb-sucking less satisfying, and dampening the impulse to do it. Learn more about the TGuard and how it can help your child become the big kid they want to be.