Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking 

Pacifier use and thumb sucking can be a happy, everyday part of life for infants.  Because sucking is a natural, instinctual baby habit, many infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a pacifier or sucking a thumb.

According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old.  Thumb sucking can be a harder habit to break and can persist for longer.  Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at higher risk for developing dental complications.

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage my child's teeth and mouth?

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, many of which are unnatural for the human mouth.  Over time, the sucking of a pacifier or a thumb can cause your child's developing jaws to misalign.

Tooth decay – Some parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey or another sugary substance.  Naturally occurring oral bacteria in your child's mouth feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood cavities.

Roof narrowing – The bone and tissue structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged and repeated thumb and pacifier sucking can cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (similar to molding around the object).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth may slant or protrude because of prolonged thumb and pacifier sucking.  Thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood may increase the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

Mouth sores – Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.

If you purchase a pacifier:

  • Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Buy an “orthodontically correct” model.
  • Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid.
  • Rinse with water to prevent bacterial transmissions.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In most cases, children will naturally give up pacifier use or thumb sucking because, as they grow, children develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask Dr. Day and his team to speak with your child.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby your child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier, which can help break the habit.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

If you have any questions or concerns about pacifier use or thumb sucking, please feel free to contact our office at 517-393-8500.

Day Family Dental

Dr. Nathan Day, DMD • Dentist • Lansing, MI

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