Will Thumb Sucking and Using a Pacifier Hurt my Child’s Teeth?

Will Thumb Sucking and Using a Pacifier Hurt My Child's Teeth?

I can’t tell you how many times a worried parent has come to our Englewood pediatric dentistry office and asked, “Will thumb sucking hurt my baby’s teeth?” or “Will using a pacifier cause permanent damage to my child’s mouth?” Well, babies have an innate sucking reflex and pacifier use is tied with a reduction in the risk of SIDS, so actually in those first months of life, it can be a positive thing. Plus, think about it, if they’re not sucking on a pacifier or their thumb, they’re nursing or sucking on a bottle or sticking everything they can get their hands onto into their mouth. It’s what they do. That being said, if thumb sucking or pacifier use becomes a prolonged habit, problems can crop up.

The Age Limit for Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

Babies actually suck on their thumbs and fingers in the womb. It’s comforting to them and makes them feel safe once they’re out in the world. Thumb sucking and pacifier use is completely fine at first and the majority of children will stop on their own between the ages of two and four. Pediatricians vary in their recommendations but many suggest weaning kiddos off the pacifier and thumb by the age of two or at least really limiting their sucking time at this point. Obviously, it’s much easier with a pacifier than a thumb. Telling a toddler to stop sucking on their thumb, which happens to be attached to them, will take some doing. At Kids Mile High, we tend to recommend intervening if a child is still sucking their thumb or using a pacifier after three-years-old. Before this age, thumb sucking and pacifier use aren’t really going to affect your child’s teeth.

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Dental Problems from Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

When thumb sucking and pacifier use continues for a long period of time, dental problems can arise. The habits can hamper the proper growth of the mouth and jaws, alter the alignment of the teeth (not for the better!) and create changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth. Kids who are aggressive thumb or pacifier suckers can cause issues with their baby teeth too. One study found if thumb sucking isn’t treated early, it can lead to skeletal changes in jaw alignment, an anterior open bite and excessive overjet, commonly referred to as an overbite. In severe cases, in addition to orthodontic treatment, kids may eventually need jaw surgery as well to correct the issues.

Tips for Weaning Kids off the Pacifier or Thumb Sucking

Ready to put the kibosh on your kiddo’s habit? Here are a few tips for how to stop kids from sucking their thumb and for weaning them off the pacifier:

  • Never yell at your child for using their pacifier or sucking their thumb. Instead, lavish them with praise when they refrain.
  • If stopping cold turkey doesn’t work (this is mostly true for pacifiers), try a gradual approach. Start by taking away the binky during happy times, like when the child is playing at home, then start to eliminate it while outside, eventually just keep the binky in the crib before phasing it out completely.
  • Most kids default to sucking their thumb or pacifier when they’re anxious and need comfort. Find out what’s bothering them and try to remedy the situation. Teaching them a few self-soothing techniques can go a long way as well.
  • If they need a pacifier to fall asleep or tend to suck their thumb before bed when they’re tired, try to implement a different bedtime routine that includes things they find calming like reading a bedtime story or taking a bath.
  • Who doesn’t love prizes? When your child goes for a set length of time without sucking their thumb or using a pacifier, give them a reward like letting them choose the next family activity or taking them on a trip to the movies.
  • Stop by Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry to talk with Dr. Paddy. He’ll educate your child on why sucking their thumb or using a pacifier is bad for their teeth. He’s really good at putting things into kid-friendly terms they’ll appreciate and understand.
  • Some professionals recommend placing a bandage on the thumb or a sock on the hand at night so kids don’t subconsciously pick the habit back up.

While thumb sucking and pacifier use are normal and soothing for babies, when the behavior continues past the first few years, it can be detrimental the development of the teeth and jaws. If you’re having trouble helping your child break the habits, schedule an appointment with Dr. Paddy at Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry in Englewood. We can teach you ways to stop thumb sucking and get rid of the binky and make sure your pride and joy’s teeth and jaw development are on track. And don’t worry if your child is older than three and still sucking away. You’re not doomed. Even in cases where some damage has been done, we have treatments like Myobrace to get the teeth and jaws where they need to be without braces. Contact us and we’ll work together to ensure your child’s smile is healthy.

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