Interventions for stopping dummy or finger or thumb sucking habits in children

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Interventions for stopping dummy or finger or thumb sucking habits in children

Borrie FRP, Bearn DR, Innes NPT, Iheozor-Ejiofor Z

Review question

This review has been produced to assess the effects of interventions to stop sucking habits in children, which are not linked to food. Important considerations are: which treatment or combination of treatments work most effectively, when should treatment be started, what is the optimum length of time for the intervention and what causes least upset to children and their parents?


Often babies and children develop a habit of sucking objects to comfort and calm them. They frequently suck dummies (known as pacifiers in the USA), fingers, thumbs or other items like blankets. Eventually, most children grow out of the habit, or stop due to encouragement from their parents. Some children, however, continue sucking as a habit. If they continue to do so as their adult teeth start to grow through (around the age of six), there is a risk that these adult teeth will grow into the wrong position causing them to stick out too far or not meet properly when biting. As a result these children often need dental treatment to fix the problems caused by their sucking habit.

Possible treatments to help children break their sucking habits examined in studies in this review include the use of two different braces in the mouth; giving advice and incentives for changing behaviour (known as psychological advice/treatment); applying a bitter, nasty tasting substance to the children’s thumbs/fingers or combinations of these treatments. None of the studies included looked at barrier methods, for example the use of gloves or plasters or withdrawal of dummies.

Study characteristics

Review authors from the Cochrane Oral Health Group carried out this review of existing studies and the evidence is current up to 8 October 2014. The review includes six studies published from 1967 to 1997, which involved 252 children as participants (although “>data were supplied on only 246 of the children). Three of the studies were carried out in the USA, one in Canada, one in Sweden and one in Australia.

Not all of the studies gave the ages of children involved; in four of the studies children were aged from two and a half to 18 years old, in one study they were aged four years and over and in another nine years and over.


Use of an orthodontic brace (such as a palatal crib or arch) or a psychological intervention (such as use of positive or negative reinforcement), or both, was more likely to lead to cessation of the habit than no treatment. Most of the trials that compared two different interventions were inconclusive but one study suggested that, of two different types of braces,a palatal crib is more effective than a palatal arch design.

Quality of the evidence

The evidence presented is of low quality due to the small number of participants in the few available studies and problems with the way in which the studies were conducted. There was a high risk of bias across the studies.


Orthodontic braces or psychological intervention seems to be effective to help children stop sucking that does not have a feeding purpose but the evidence is low quality. Further high quality clinical trials are required to guide decision making for what is a common problem that can require lengthy and expensive dental treatment to correct.

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