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What Is A Thumb Sucking Appliance – A Complete Guide

What Is A Thumb Sucking Appliance?

A Complete Guide

Answer All Your Questions About Resolving Thumb or Finger Sucking 


adolescent boy sucking thumb while sleeping


A custom made thumb sucking appliance should be your first line of defense against a persistent thumb sucking habit and here’s why!

I’m sure you will agree that breaking your child’s persistent thumb sucking habit can be an impossible task. Everything that you may have tried already has failed.

I have personally heard tales of parents putting ghost pepper sauce on a child’s thumb to stop the sucking habit. However, the habit was so strong that the child sucked the ghost pepper sauce right off and didn’t even flinch!

Many parents feel hopeless and should seek professional help to break such a strong thumb sucking habit. Without help they are sure to face more frustration with their child’s habit. This frustration may even lead to a strain in their relationship with the child.

In this article I am going to tell you exactly what a thumb sucking appliance is, how it can break a finger sucking habit and who should use the appliance. 


What Is A Thumb Sucking Appliance?

A thumb sucking appliance is a dental device used to break a persistent thumb sucking habit in a child or adult. The appliance prevents placement of the thumb into the mouth in a comfortable and soothing position.

Your dental professional prescribes a thumb sucking appliance . This prescription can come from your general dentist, pediatric dentist or orthodontist. At your initial consultation, a diagnosis for habitual thumb sucking must be made prior to the appliance fabrication by one of these professionals. After insertion, the habit is broken over time by a willing participant with consistent wear.

A thumb sucking appliance is made in 4 easy steps

  1. Examination and diagnosis by your dental provider who will prescribe a thumb sucking appliance to break the thumb or finger sucking habit
  2. The habit breaking appliance is custom made by first taking an impression or digital scan of your teeth
  3. A dental lab will then fabricate a removable or fixed-type habit appliance. The specific type will be determined by your dental professional
  4. You dental provider will schedule you for an appointment to deliver your appliance and start your treatment

A thumb sucking habit appliance will remain in place until the sucking habit has been broken. This can take up to 6 month or as long as a year for a really persistent habit. 


what is thumb sucking complete guide

When Should A Thumb Sucking Appliance Be Used?

A thumb sucking appliance should be used when an early childhood thumb or finger sucking habit persists past age 4-5. As your child grows and develops, thumb sucking can wreak havoc on the teeth and developing skeletal structures. 

Typically parents will try other means before using a habit breaking appliance as a last resort. Due to the damaging changes to the jaw bone and teeth that a persistent thumb sucking habit can cause, I would argue that a custom made habit appliance should be the first line of therapy


Due to the damaging changes to the jaw bone and teeth that a persistent thumb sucking habit can cause, I would argue that a custom made habit appliance should be the first line of therapy. -Dr Jesse McGuire



A thumb habit appliance should also be used when a child is experiencing social anxieties or expressing esthetic concerns. This may happen because thumb sucking can significantly change the position of the teeth. 

These dental changes can cause school aged children to experience teasing and bullying from fellow students. This can cause intense feelings of anxiety, hurt and withdrawal. A thumb sucking child in this situation will be a great candidate for an appliance to help them break the damaging habit. 


Types of Appliances To Stop Thumb Sucking

There are different types of appliances that can stop a child from sucking their thumb. Your dental provider will decide which appliance is right for you or your child. There are two main categories of thumb sucking appliances, removable and fixed appliances.

Removable Appliances 

A removable habit correction appliance can be taken in and out of the mouth. Removable thumb sucking appliances require 100% compliance and will only be effective if worn by a willing patient. 

A patient that does not want to break their finger sucking habit will remove the appliance at will. Because of this, success rates with removable thumb sucking appliances are poor.  The major advantage of a removable appliance is that it can be removed for eating and proper cleaning of the teeth and gums. 

Fixed Appliances 

A fixed habit correction appliance can not be readily removed from the mouth. Fixed appliances removes the wear compliance difficulties that strong habit formers struggle with. 

Since they cannot be removed at will, habitual thumb suckers have no choice but to start the process of breaking the habit. However, since they can not be removed there may be difficulties adjusting to eating, speaking and cleaning around the habit appliance.

Within the two categories of thumb sucking appliances there are 3 common types.  The three most common models of thumb habit appliances


The Hay Rake

The Hay Rake appliance features short prongs or spikes that poke or irritate the fleshy part of the thumb when inserted into the mouth. Rake appliances punish the patient each time they try to suck their thumb. This is called punitive reinforcement. The spikes poke the thumb causing discomfort or pain when the thumb is inserted. 

palatal haye rake appliance for thumb suckingimage source

Thumb Crib

The thumb crib features a cage or a fence that rests just below the roof of the mouth. Thumb Crib thumb habit appliances works by preventing the pressure and sucking sensation at the roof of the mouth. With a thumb crib sucking the thumb provides no stimulus, is deemed useless and the habit is broken with consistent wear. 

fixed appliance thumb guard appliance for thumb sucking

image source

Bluegrass appliance 

The main feature of a Bluegrass appliance is a roller. The roller is placed towards the front half of the roof of the mouth. Patients turn the roller with their tongue instead of sucking a thumb. This gives the child an alternative to the sucking habit and is effective an anti thumb sucking device. 

Because this anti thumb sucking device is based around positive reinforcement and is less aggressive it can be used in early mixed dentition, or with kids as young as 6 or 7. 

bluegrass thumb sucking appliance

image source


How Much Does A Thumb Sucking Appliance Cost?

A thumb habit appliance will generally be the main feature of an interceptive treatment plan for your child. A complete interceptive treatment will consist of an initial consultation, initial records, appliance fabrication, appliance delivery and appliance checks for up to 1 year. 

This will usually be quoted as a package treatment fee ranging from $895 to $2500, depending on your location. If you have dental insurance, this may decrease your out of pocket expense.

If you are local to Phoenix, AZ and are in need of thumb sucking appliance treatment for your child please visit our contact us page.


How Long Should A Thumb Sucking Appliance Be Worn?

In general, an appliance to break a thumb sucking habit should be worn until the habit is initially broken plus additional time to make certain that the thumb habit does not immediately return.  

For most mild to moderate thumb sucking habits this will be 3- 6 months of total wear. A persistent thumb sucker wears a device for thumb sucking for up to a year. 

In cases where a thumb sucking habit returns after initial treatment a new habit appliance is fabricated. The new appliance is delivered and worn for an extended period of time to make certain that the habit does not return.


What Are The Benefits Of A Thumb Sucking Appliance?

The benefits of using an appliance for a thumb sucking habit are numerous! Because of the skeletal and dental changes that a long standing finger sucking habit can cause the are many physical benefits to treatment. 

A thumb sucking habit tends to constrict the upper arch, flares the upper teeth and tips back the lower teeth.  Stopping a thumb sucking habit early enough will allow proper development of the upper jaw and will allow the front teeth to return to their normal positions.

The other major benefit of stopping a thumb sucking habit is a big boost in confidence and self esteem. Thumb suckers often suffer psychologically from the physical changes in their teeth and bite.  

The changes in positioning of the teeth can make it difficult to speak and to bite into food. So finger suckers tend to be very self conscious about smiling, speaking with people, eating in public.  Because of this many thumb suckers desperately want to break their habit but are unable to without help. 

graphic demonstrating benefits of breaking a thumb sucking habit

How Effective Are Anti Thumb Sucking Devices?

Thumb sucking devices are very effective at breaking sucking habits, especially in a motivated child. The more motivated the child is to break the habit, the faster the habit will be broken. 

Generally, a thumb or finger sucking habit will be broken in 6-8 months.  During this 6-8 months, dental changes such an open bites tend to close spontaneously, without braces or additional appliances. This additional time will further reinforce and make sure to break the habit. 


What Are The Alternatives To A Thumb Sucking Appliance?

There are multiple over the counter habit breakers that can be purchased without a prescription from your dental provider. These alternative include mechanical therapies, chemical therapies and behavioral modification programs

Mechanical Therapies 

These can be effective for mild thumb sucking habits, but some parents find that these solutions are not effective long term. Because most of these solutions revolve around covering the finger, or strapping the hand down, a clever child will find a way to remove the device and free their finger.  An unwilling child will lose or break a removable devices, so they can’t be forced to use the device anymore. 

Top Selling Mechanical Therapy Products For Thumb Sucking

dr thumb mechanical therapy alternative for thumb sucking applianceDr Thumb Products


nipit mechanical therapy alternative for thumb sucking appliance


 tguard mechanical therapy alternative for thumb sucking appliance


Chemical Therapy

Chemical means of breaking a persistent thumb habit include the use of a spicy, bitter tasting or foul smelling liquid that is placed on the thumbs or fingers. This is a reminder and deterrent to the sucking habit.  These products can be purchased at your local pharmacy or from online retailers such as Amazon.com 


Top Selling Chemical Therapy Products For Thumb Sucking

chemical therapy alternative for thumb sucking appliance

Mavala Stop


chemical therapy alternative for thumb sucking appliance

Stop The Bite Nail Biting Solution


chemical therapy alternative for thumb sucking appliance

Biter Be Goner



Behavior Modification Programs

An alternative to appliance, mechanical or chemical therapy is enrolling your child or yourself in a behavior modification program. These programs will be offered by a local speech pathologist or oro-facial myologist

These programs offer specialized programs offered by professionals that deal with all aspects of oral and facial issues. They provide a great service and support system for children who are persistent thumb suckers. Combining a Behavior Modification Program with a thumb sucking appliance creates a power treatment that can successfully break even the most difficult digit sucking habit. 




In summary, now you know exactly what a thumb sucking appliance is, how it works and who should use one to break a stubborn habit.

Hopefully this article has provided you with the resources and tools needed to educate you on thumb habit appliances. A simple appliance can break the habit and save you from frustration caused by unsuccessful attempts.

Good luck breaking those pesky thumb and finger sucking habits!


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