The thumb guards pictured above 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 - like 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 still a recognised tactic used by parents now, very similar to a product called 'Bite X' sold in the 1920s.