Beth E. Kailes, DMD • Nicole M. Staman, DMD • Allison J. Johnston, DMD

Beth E. Kailes, DMD
Nicole M. Staman, DMD
Allison J. Johnston, DMD

Are thumb sucking and pacifier habits harmful for a child’s teeth?

It’s completely normal for babies and young children to suck their thumb, fingers or pacifier. Sucking is a natural reflex that provides security and contentment and is a way for young babies to learn about their world. Some even begin sucking on their fingers before they are born.

sucking-fingersAccording to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), most children stop sucking their thumbs and using pacifiers on their own between two and four years of age. However, some children continue until they are older. Over time, pacifiers and thumb sucking can increase the risk of dental complications and cause jaw misalignment, tooth decay, roof narrowing, slanting teeth, and mouth sores.

As children grow and mature, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves. But, some children need the help of their parents and their pediatric dentist to stop their sucking habits.

When your child is old enough to understand the possible results of a sucking habit, try doing one or more of the following tips.

  • Talk about what can happen to their teeth and jaws if they don’t stop.
  • Make sure your child is aware when they are sucking their thumb. Ask them, “Do you realize you’re sucking your thumb right now?”
  • Encourage your child to choose other self-soothing alternatives to sucking, like singing a song, holding a stuffed toy or looking at books.
  • Limit the setting for pacifier use and thumb sucking to the bedroom at night.
  • Talk with your child about being old enough to stop, just like the “big kids.”
  • Gradually withhold the pacifier for longer periods of time.
  • Try a special nail polish that tastes bitter.

If your child has difficulty breaking the habit even with rewards and encouragement, talk to us. We can offer additional options and advice to help kids break the habit.

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