Are You Worried About Your Child Using a Pacifier?

Get the Real Story on Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use!

A Typical Situation
Joan walks into my office with her young child, Luke, for the Luke’s regular cleaning. Luke hops up in the chair and I start to chat with Joan about Luke’s oral hygiene habits. Luke has been brushing twice a day, and flossing when his mom reminds him, but…”he’s still sucking his thumb,” Joan worriedly tells me. I often have this discussion with parents who are worried that their child’s pacifier use or thumb sucking could cause lasting dental damage.

So Why Do Kids Suck Thumbs and Use Pacifiers?
It is natural for a baby or young child to suck their thumb. Many babies actually begin to suck their thumbs in the womb before they’re born. Thumb sucking and pacifiers provide a sensory way for babies to become familiar with their environments. Pacifiers and thumbs also provide comfort and emotional support for young children.

Should I Be Worried?
For the most part thumb sucking and pacifier use are normal for small children and shouldn’t be concerning. Most children will grow out of the habit around the age of four years old.

However, children who are still sucking their thumbs after the age of four years old, when permanent teeth could be erupting, may need to stop sucking on their thumbs or pacifiers. Pacifiers and thumbs affect dental development in the same way. As permanent teeth are emerging thumb sucking and pacifiers could cause the front teeth to tilt upward or come in skewed. Prolonged habits can even change a child’s bite alignment.

Generally, if a child is sucking their thumb or using a pacifier before their permanent teeth emerge you do not need to be concerned. But as your child begins to lose primary teeth, it may be necessary to intervene and wean your child off of their thumb or pacifier.

What Can I Do?
There are several different strategies you can use to try and help your child stop sucking on their thumb or a pacifier.

  • Be honest with your child and simply tell them that if they continue to suck their thumb or pacifier their teeth may not come in straight. Sometimes this is all it takes to get your child motivated to kick the habit, don’t be afraid to get your dentist in on the conversation as well!
  • Start gradually restricting their thumb or pacifier sucking to certain time of day. For example, let them know that they can’t suck their thumb or pacifier at school, but allow them to continue doing it at home. Then gradually limit the time further, slowly weaning your child off of the habit.
  • Positively reinforce your child’s behavior when your child is able to resist sucking their thumb or pacifier. Because thumb and pacifier sucking is a comfort mechanism, negative reinforcement or punishment is often ineffective, as the child searches for comfort in response to being punished.
  • Because sucking a thumb or pacifier is a comfort mechanism, consider replacing this habit with a teddy bear, blanket, or other comfort item.

One of the best things you can do is schedule an appointment with your dentist so that your dentist can assess the seriousness of your child’s habit and recommend a course of action.

If you’re interested in scheduling a dental appointment for your child, just click here to schedule a free consultation.

Look for next week’s newsletter when we’ll be talking about how you can prevent cavities!

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