Thumb guards

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Last reviewed: 13/08/2012
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Last updated: 01/07/2010

Two types of thumb guard, first half of the 20th century

These thumb guards date from the early twentieth century. Advertisements held in the museum’s collections suggest that thumb sucking was viewed as a dangerous habit that parents should take an interest in, not just because of the dentoalveolar changes prolonged thumb sucking could lead to, but also because it could be “disastrous financially” if expensive orthodontic procedures were needed. 

The types of treatment used to combat digit habits show that although the methods may have changed the theory is essentially the same. Today, such treatments as the 1906 Babe Mitts metal socks that fitted over the baby’s fist and tied around the wrist, or the similar thumb guards have been replaced with the less restrictive tactics of using a bandage or glove to make the child aware of the habit. Indeed using a waterproof plaster to cover the thumb or digit is principally the same as the idea put forward in the 1937 Daily Express article, which suggests: “wrap the thumb of the small baby with adhesive tape until it assumes the proportions of a ball”.

Some methods of changing a child’s behaviour in order to combat the habit of digit sucking have changed very little, for example bitter tasting solutions applied to the digits are a recognised tactic used by parents now, just as the Bite X solution shown in this 1920s advertisement.  

Thumb sucking continues to be an issue that concerns parents today, just as it did 100 years ago. Although a more all-rounded approach between child, parent and dentist is favoured now; quirky and unusual treatments can still be found such as a Combat thumb sucking hypnosis CD!