Thumb Sucking & Pacifier Use

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and naptime, thumb and pacifier sucking can be one of the most comforting activities of childhood. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs or a pacifier.

Is this cause for worry? In most cases, the answer is no. However, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s habits in case his or her behavior has the potential to affect overall oral health.

What is normal thumb sucking and pacifier behavior?

Most children begin sucking thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers from a very young age. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant, and it serves an important purpose.

Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.

According to the American Dental Association, most children stop sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them.

However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show the older a child gets, the lower the chances are of continuing the habit). If your son or daughter is still sucking when the permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.

What signs should I watch for?

If your child’s sucking is passive, with the thumb or pacifier gently resting inside the mouth, it is less likely to cause damage.

If, on the other hand, the sucking is aggressive, placing pressure on the mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face, and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If at any time you suspect your child’s sucking habits may be affecting his or her oral health, please give us a call and schedule a visit. We can help you assess the situation.

How can I help my child quit thumb and pacifier sucking?

Should you need to help your child end the habit, follow these guidelines:

  1. Always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for thumb sucking or pacifier use, give praise when he or she doesn’t do it.
  2. Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb, a sock over the hand at night, and don’t provide a pacifier. Let your little one know this is not a punishment, but rather a way to help remember to avoid sucking.
  3. Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day that he or she doesn’t suck. If your youngster makes it through a week without sucking, he or she gets to choose a prize. When the whole month is full, reward your child with something great (a toy or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Making your son or daughter an active participant in treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
  4. If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious, work on alleviating the anxiety rather than focusing on the habit.
  5. Take note of the times your youngster tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.
  6. Explain clearly what might happen to the teeth if he or she keeps thumb sucking.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the habit of pacifier use and thumb sucking.

maryland academy of pediatric dentistry american board of pediatric dentistry american academy of pediatric dentistry american dental association international association of pediatric dentistry

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Bowie, MD 20715
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