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The Effects of Thumb-Sucking and Pacifiers on Young Teeth

Babies and very small children possess a natural reflex to suck on their thumbs, fingers or a pacifier. This is a soothing technique that helps them to relax and can even help a restless child get to sleep. This isn’t dangerous but can pose some pretty significant dental issues if it persists for too long. Children should be weaned from thumb-sucking and pacifiers when their teeth start developing to avoid these problems in their future.

What problems can arise from something as seemingly benign as thumb-sucking? Continue reading to learn why now might be a great time to wean your little one of this behavior.

Problems Arising from Prolonged Thumb-Sucking

If your child is younger than four, chances are they have not yet damaged their teeth with thumb-sucking or pacifier use. It is around the age of five or six that most parents will begin to notice changes in their child’s mouth. Some problems might not be addressed until the child’s next dentist appointment.

The issues that arise from thumb-sucking over the age of five include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  1. Speech problems, including lisps, caused by the jaw bone moving
  2. Calloused thumbs
  3. Overbites/underbites from teeth shifting around
  4. Increased incident of illness from germs transferring to the mouth
  5. Changes to the shape and sensitivity of the roof of the mouth
  6. Crooked teeth, aside from underbites/overbites

As you can tell, these issues are not small problems. Many of them will require advanced dental care to remedy when the child is older, including braces. While it may be challenging to put an end to pacifiers and thumb-sucking, your child will be grateful for a healthier and more even smile later in life.

Tips for Putting an End to Thumb-Sucking

Try implementing these ideas in your home when it comes time to wean your child of thumb-sucking and/or pacifiers.

  1. Put socks on their hands while they sleep to keep them from sucking their thumbs. Some parents like to secure the socks with tape.
  2. Set strict rules as to when your child can use a pacifier, such as at bedtime only. This is only a stepping stone on the path to getting them out of the habit.
  3. Reward your child for not sucking their thumb or pacifier. Be positive and encouraging. Do not yell at them or become visibly frustrated during this process.
  4. Acquire a bitter-tasting medicine from your dentist or physician. Putting this on the pacifier or their thumb will discourage this behavior.