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Are Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Habits Harmful for a Child’s Teeth?

Little Kid with pacifier.

Many parents wonder if thumb sucking and pacifier habits are harmful to their little ones’ teeth. While most children outgrow these practices before they cause each long-term damage, continuing them can pose oral health risks. So the question is, when is the best time to intervene?

Why Do Children Suck Thumbs or Pacifiers?

Children tend to suck on a thumb or a pacifier as a form of calming and self-soothing. You will find these behaviors prevalent in infants and toddlers. While most children overcome these habits by the time they are four, some continue to suck their thumbs and are reluctant to put away their pacifiers, which may result in a host of dental problems. It is usually best to work on tapering off these habits at a young age.

How Do Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers Affect Teeth?

Sucking on thumbs and pacifiers long-term may interfere with the healthy growth of a child’s mouth, the roof of the mouth, and tooth alignment. The extent of harm usually depends on how aggressively the child sucks on the thumb or pacifier. Often, vigorous sucking results in problems with primary teeth, along with changes in the bite which may result in crooked, misaligned teeth. This may translate into many involved, costly procedures down the road, including orthodontic treatment.

Helping Your Child Break Old Habits

While most children give up thumb and pacifier sucking between the ages of 2 and 4, some kids will need a little help. First, keep in mind that encouragement goes a long way. Celebrate and offer plenty of praise when you see your child not engaging in these practices. Keep in mind that positive reinforcement is much more powerful and effective than scolding or punishing your child.

You can also help your child find other ways to self-soothe during stressful situations. You may consider offering your child something to do to keep the hands occupied if thumb sucking takes place out of boredom. Many parents find it helpful to place socks or mittens on a child’s hands at night to prevent thumb sucking during sleep. You may also want to consider setting up a “big kid” reward system to help encourage positive habits.

If all else fails, talk to us at Smile Explorers. Our experienced and caring team can offer you tips and tricks to help your child break these harmful habits, and may even recommend a mouth appliance to discourage thumb-sucking. Our goal is to work alongside you to find solutions that ensure your child enjoys healthy, happy smiles for years to come!

Contact Us Today

Visit us at Smile Explorers to learn more about preventing any long-term damage to your child’s teeth from thumb sucking or the use of a pacifier. Our highly trained and kid-centered team is here to support you and offer any advice or care your child needs. We are passionate about our young patients and strive to keep each child’s smile healthy for a lifetime. We look forward to caring for all your child’s dental needs.