Breaking the Habit: Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

Breaking the Habit: Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

Improve Your Child’s Oral Health by Helping Them Break These Habits

For infants and young children, sucking is a very instinctual and natural habit — it’s comforting and relaxing, and it signals security, so the use of pacifiers and even thumb sucking early in life is common and familiar.

And while we know that most kids will stop using a pacifier by the age of four, thumb sucking often lasts longer and is tougher for kids to break without intervention. The longer kids use sucking aids, the more susceptible they’ll be to developing major dental complications.

Breaking thumb sucking and pacifier habits are hard! Anthem Pediatric Dentistry in Henderson is here to support you! Learn more about how these habits affect dental health and helpful ways to help wean them from sucking aids.

The Dental Damage Of Thumb Sucking And Pacifiers

Thumb sucking and pacifiers seem like normal habits that most kids phase in and out of, but prolonged periods can be quite insidious to their oral health and development.

Jaw Misalignment

Pacifiers come in a wide range of options with varying sizes and shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re a device that is completely unnatural for our mouths to hold. Because of the extra effort it takes for young children to hold and suck with pacifiers in their mouth, their jaws begin to change and stray from natural alignment.

Thumbs also similarly do the same thing by changing the shape of the mouth and guiding the developing jaw out of alignment.

Slanting Teeth

Thumb and pacifier sucking can cause developing teeth to slant or protrude, impacting the aesthetics of the child’s smile and even causing bite issues, which can then impact chewing and speech.

Tooth Decay

Thumb and pacifier sucking doesn’t inherently cause cavities, but many times parents will dip a pacifier in honey or sugar to better pacify their upset child. Even sending your child to nap with a bottle of apple juice or milk can be harmful to their dental health.

The sugars attack the enamel, producing acid and causing cavities and pediatric tooth decay.

Mouth Sores

Aggressive sucking on thumbs and pacifiers — especially if you’re hearing a popping sound as they suck — can cause mouth sores because of the constant motion and friction in the mouth.

Roof Narrowing

Bone and soft tissues are extremely malleable in early childhood so habits such as thumb sucking and pacifier use can disrupt normal development, causing the roof of the mouth to narrow.

Thumb sucking and pacifier use can cause a myriad of malocclusions including:


  • Anterior open bite – An open bite is when the molars come together but the front teeth do not.

  • Anterior excessive overjet – This creates a large overbite where the front top teeth protrude far over the bottom teeth.

  • Posterior crossbite – This type of malocclusion happens when the front teeth overbite and the molars underbite.

Halting the Bad Habits

Breaking thumb sucking and pacifier habits can be extremely tough, especially if they’re a comfort and self-soothing technique your child uses.

Interrupt the Habit Early

The younger your child is for intervention, the better and easier it will be to wean them from sucking aids.
Replace the sucking aid.

Whether your child is using a pacifier or their thumb, disrupt the pattern by holding their hand if they try to use it or introduce another item such as a blanket or special stuffed animal.

Use Positive Praise

When your child is not using a sucking aid, give them praise and verbally express what a great job they’re doing.

Introduce Hard Food

When it’s appropriate (six months and beyond) use tougher food to help them connect with normal oral functioning — this helps them with oral feedback and they may even stop using sucking aids on their own.

What’s the Real Issue with these Habits?

As we’ve explored, using sucking aids consistently for prolonged periods deeply impacts your child’s oral health. And while it may be easy to say, their baby teeth will fall out and then we can deal with any misalignment issues, at the end of the day, being proactive in their early dental health is integral. Not only will it likely save you costly extensive orthodontic treatments, but it will also set them up for healthy teeth in the future.

The longer these habits endure, the more early intervention your child may need. From orthodontic spacers and headgear to braces, pediatric orthodontic care can begin as early as two years old to correct and guide growth and alignment back in the right direction. Talk to your dentist about an early orthodontic assessment if your child is a chronic thumb or pacifier user.

Proper facial and jaw growth begin early, so eliminating thumb and pacifier sucking needs to begin now.

Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use
Pediatric Dentistry | Firstgrin

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