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Home > Daily Dental Care > Pediatric Dentistry > The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use on Teeth
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The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use on Teeth

Thumb sucking can affect permanent teeth.

Many parents are worried about their children's thumb sucking or pacifier use. Since they are concerned about the effect on the bite, parents will often attempt to stop their children from sucking their thumb or using the pacifier. Thumb sucking and pacifier use are normal, and most children will stop these sucking habits before much damage can be done to protrude the upper teeth and affect the bite permanently. Many children in utero actually suck thumbs, fingers or knuckles while in the mother's womb.

Thumb sucking and pacifier use help children become comfortable with their environment, and give the children a method for self-relaxation. Parents should not be overly upset over their infants and toddlers need to suck their thumb or use a pacifier. Here are some things that parents should be aware of when allowing their children to use pacifiers: To reduce the possibility of choking, purchase pacifiers that are made of a solid molded piece, and not one which has been fabricated with a number of separate pieces attached together; periodically check the pacifier, especially the nipple end, to make sure that it has not become brittle (brittle rubber nipples can break and choke your child); and never tie a pacifier around your child's neck as this can create a potential for strangulation.

Most children should grow out of thumb sucking and pacifier use between the ages of 3 to 4. As long as the habit is discontinued well before their permanent teeth come in, your child should be fine. If, however, they continue this habit as their permanent teeth come in, more damage can occur, and it is important to help your child discontinue their habit.

The most effective way to accomplish this is to simply explain to your child that they must do so in order for their teeth to come in straight. You would be surprised at how effective simply explaining this to your child can be. When they do suck their thumb or use a pacifier give them a gentle verbal reminder.

Under no circumstances should you give negative reinforcement or punish a child for this behavior as this often causes the child to further continue the habit. Many professionals urge parents to tape their children's fingers or apply bitter tasting solutions to the fingers to prevent thumb sucking. We don't recommend this method. It is not as effective as providing positive reinforcement when children are trying to stop sucking their thumb.

A gradual slowing down of the use is recommended. Take small segments -- either during a TV program one hour before dinner -- and have them stop sucking their thumb or using the pacifier. Then extend the time to other times of the day. Gradually increasing the number of hours during which they don't use the pacifier or suck their thumb will be an easier transition until they only need it to go to bed, which will be the last time period to eliminate.

A reward system is helpful when they comply. Also, when kids have colds, are congested and can't breathe, this is a good time for them to understand that thumb or pacifier usage is uncomfortable and there is a reason to stop. The habit then can be transferred to the security of a stuffed animal or doll. This can be very helpful. Remember, sucking fingers and pacifiers are a security system for the child, and touching, hugging and spending time building a child's self-esteem by parents will go a long way in growing a well-adjusted and fun child.

If you need a dentist who is good with children, call us at 1-866-970-0441. We'll put you in touch with a great dentist today!

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