How Thumbsucking & Pacifiers Affect Teeth

How Thumbsucking & Pacifiers Affect Teeth
Posted on 02/26/2018
Before children are even born, they will begin sucking on their own fingers and thumbs in the womb. While many see thumbsucking as a bad habit, it’s actually just one of our natural reflexes in our most early stages of development. The feeling of sucking on a thumb or finger gives a child a sense of security, helping soothe himself if things ever get stressful or challenging. That’s also why pacifiers are such a great tool for new parents to give to their children to keep them feeling comfortable. However, while the sucking reflex is pretty harmless to start out, it can develop into a bad habit later that can drastically affect the health of a child’s teeth. At Lunsford McCaffrey Orthodontics, it’s our goal to ensure that both you and your family have healthy smiles that last for a lifetime. Here’s how thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth.

The “Under 2, Before 4” Rule

As we mentioned above, thumbsucking or the urge to suck on a pacifier is a natural reflex for children, but when exactly does it start becoming a habit that needs to be broken? Typically, the sucking reflex is harmless as long as the child is under the age of 2 years old, and should stop by the time the child is at most age 4. Between ages 2 and 4, it is advised that parents do their best to at least limit the child’s thumb sucking reflex.

Altering Bone & Tooth Development

Past age 4, children enter a very sensitive stage of development, especially when it comes to the development of their jaw, teeth, and gums. This is when the sucking reflex starts to be considered a habit that needs to be broken. When a child has a sucking habit during this developmental stage, it creates pressure as the pacifier or finger is pushed up against the gums and the teeth and bone growing underneath. This pressure can manipulate oral development and create a misaligned bite, and over time, lead to issues with chewing, speaking, or even alter facial structure and appearance. When this occurs, early orthodontic treatment is needed to correct these issues.

How To Break The Habit

If a child continues their sucking habit past the age of four, it’s crucial that the parent works to wean the child off using a pacifier, or prevent them from sucking their thumb to prevent developmental issues. Here are some strategies that you can try to break your child’s thumbsucking or pacifier habit:

- Offer A Reward - Using some positive reinforcement and rewarding your child for not sucking their thumb or not using their pacifier will help them see breaking the habit as a good thing.

- The “Growing Up” Approach -  Letting your kids know that they’re getting to be a “big kids” and that it’s a proud moment, but that means that they have to give up their sucking habit, since it’s not something big kids do.

- Reducing Stress & Anxiety - The sucking reflex stems from your child being uncomfortable, so doing your best to make them feel less anxious should help break the habit. 
  • Offer A Reward - Using some positive reinforcement and rewarding your child for not sucking their thumb or not using their pacifier will help them see breaking the habit as a good thing. 

The “Growing Up” Approach -  Letting your kids know that they’re getting to be a “big kids” and that it’s a proud moment, but that means that they have to give up their sucking habit, since it’s not something big kids do. 

Reducing Stress & Anxiety - The sucking reflex stems from your child being uncomfortable, so doing your best to make them feel less anxious should help break the habit. 


Contact Lunsford McCaffrey Orthodontics For More Tips!

If you’re worried about your child’s thumbsucking or pacifier habit, or if they need corrective orthodontic treatment for a misaligned smile, contact us at Lunsford Orthodontics and we’ll be able to help. Drs. Lunsford and McCaffery, along with our experienced orthodontic staff, will make sure you and your family get the professional care that you deserve, so you can enjoy the feeling of having healthy, radiant smiles. From early orthodontic care for your children, to braces and Invisalign for teens and adults, we have everything you need right here at our local orthodontic office in West Palm Beach, FL. Stop by our office, meet our team, and become a part of our smiling family of patients!