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Dental Health Articles

Thumbsucking and Pacifier Use: How It Can Affect Your Child's Dentition

By Nick K. Nguyen, DDS, APC

Thumbsucking is one of a baby's natural reflexes. In fact, babies begin this reflex response while still in their mother's womb. For infants and young children, sucking their thumb or a pacifier serves several functions. It can give a feeling of comfort and security in new or unfamiliar situations, or it can give a soothing effect and even help induce sleep. Therefore, thumbsucking should be viewed as a natural part of a baby's development.

However, prolonged thumbsucking can lead to dental problems, especially when the front permanent teeth start to erupt (usually between the ages of 5 and 6). It can negatively affect the growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth, causing crowded crooked teeth, and bite problems which could become difficult to reverse later in life. The amount of damage that can result from thumbsucking is usually dependent on the intensity of thumbsucking. Prolonged use of a pacifier can also affect a child's dentition similar to thumbsucking.

Most children stop thumbsucking on their own between the ages of two and four. However, if a child does not stop on his or her own by the age of five, the parent should consider contacting a dentist to explore ways to help the child discontinue this habit. Having good communication and a good relationship with a dental office will help ensure comprehensive dental care for one's family which can prevent extensive problems later in life.

Tips for successfully helping your child stop thumbsucking:

  • Praise your child for not sucking his or her thumb, and reward your child for not sucking his or her thumb during difficult situations
  • Bandage your child's thumb or place a sock over the hand at night
  • Have your dentist verbally discourage the habit
  • Talk to your dentist about a mouth appliance


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