Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use: What You Need to Know about These Habits and Your Child’s Oral Health

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

Thumb-sucking and pacifier useThumb and finger-sucking is a natural behavior for infants and young children and can even start before birth. Newborns and infants suck thumbs, fingers, and pacifiers to soothe themselves and feel more secure. Often, this behavior extends into early childhood. When it does, parents often wonder if thumb-sucking or pacifier use could harm their child’s oral health.

A Primer in Tooth Development

An infant’s first two baby, or primary, teeth usually appear around 6 months of age. By age three, toddlers have a full set of primary teeth, which they start losing around age six. Primary teeth save space for permanent teeth that will appear later, especially when your child’s jaw and other facial bones start growing at age four to make room for larger, permanent teeth. Healthy primary teeth are essential for nutrition as they help your child chew food and give the permanent teeth developing below the gum line a healthy start.

Effect of Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use on Oral Health

Since the jaw and facial bones do not start to grow and develop until age four and permanent teeth do not appear until age six or later, thumb and finger sucking and pacifier use in the first few years of life are not as likely to cause oral health problems for your child. However, as the bones begin to develop, sucking habits can impact the growth and alignment of your child’s teeth and even change the shape of the roof of your child’s mouth.

Vigorous suckers are more likely to have oral health problems if the habit continues after age four, and aggressive thumb-sucking or pacifier use can potentially change the alignment of your child’s primary teeth. It is common for sucking habits to create an anterior open bite where the front teeth do not contact each other. One difficult to correct side effect of an anterior open bite is often the development of a forward swallowing habit. If you’re concerned about your child’s aggressive thumb-sucking, speak with us at Eggert Family Dentistry.

Breaking the Habit

Thumb-sucking and pacifier use typically comes to an end naturally between the ages of two and four. At that age, children become more engaged in the world around them, sleep less, and can even face peer pressure at preschool to stop thumb-sucking.

But sometimes, kids need a little help breaking the thumb-sucking habit. To protect their oral health, help your child break the habit if they continue to suck their thumb or use a pacifier past age four. Recognize and praise children when you notice they are not sucking their thumb, especially during times that cause stress and anxiety. If your child no longer sucks their thumb while awake but continues to do so while asleep, trying putting a bandage on the thumb or a sock on your child’s hand.

Breaking the thumb-sucking habit can cause anxiety and stress for children and parents alike. You’re not alone in the quest to break the habit. Ask your dentist for help explaining to your children what may happen to their teeth if they continue to suck their thumbs and fingers. Contact Eggert Family Dentistry today to schedule your child’s oral health recare visit.

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