How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

Does your child love to suck their thumb or use a pacifier? Are you worried about how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles? Alba Orthodontics has the answers you are looking for!

Why Do Children Suck On Thumbs And Pacifiers?

Did you know pacifiers and thumb-sucking are ordinary and expected behaviors in young children? It’s true! It’s not only a reflex but also incredibly beneficial to developing children. Thumb-sucking and pacifier use is a source of comfort for children and helps them feel secure and content as they learn to navigate the world. It’s their first way of self-soothing, and it has multiple benefits, including:

  • Acting as distractions during uncomfortable moments, like at the doctor’s office or when overstimulated.
  • Pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDs in children aged six months to one year.
  • Both can aid in relieving discomfort caused by teething or ear popping on airplanes.
  • Helping children fall asleep.
  • And more!

Are Thumb And Pacifier Sucking Healthy?

Yes, but with conditions. Like most things, pacifiers and thumb-sucking are healthy to a certain degree. Most dentists and medical professionals agree that children should stop relying on pacifiers and thumb-sucking around the age of three. Prolonged use of these soothing techniques can lead to undesired effects on your child’s smile, such as:

  • open bites (front teeth in both rows are angled outward and do not touch)
  • crossbites (some or all of the upper teeth fit behind or between the lower teeth)
  • underbites (lower front teeth stick out past upper front teeth)
  • overbites (upper front teeth exceed the lower teeth past the standard amount)
  • overjet bites (upper front teeth are angled toward the mouth). 

Malocclusions like the ones above can, unfortunately, create other problems for your child, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Oral health issues. — Brushing and flossing can be challenging when the teeth and jaw are not aligned, allowing bacteria and plaque to build up and eat away at your child’s enamel. Weakened enamel leaves your child vulnerable to tooth decay, gum disease, and infections that, if not promptly treated, can cause permanent damage to your child’s smile.
  • Speech impediment. — Misaligned jaw or teeth give your child a speech impediment, like a lisp or tongue-tying. Unfortunately, speech impediments can make it challenging for your child to communicate and negatively impact their learning ability. (It’s important to note that 1.) many factors cause speech impediments, and 2.) malocclusion created by extended sucking of the pacifier or thumb causes the speech impediment, not the pacifier or thumb-sucking itself.)
  • Jaw pain. — TMJ pain can come from an improperly aligned jaw, which puts abnormal pressure and tension on the TMJ muscles. Misaligned teeth that make chewing and talking difficult can also put unusual stress on the jaw joint. If not treated, this pain can quickly become permanent.

How Can You Discourage These Habits?

Luckily, most children wean away from pacifiers and thumb-sucking on their own as they age. Fortunately, for those that don’t, there are plenty of methods and techniques to encourage their quitting of the habit. Remember — around three years, or 36 months, is the ideal time for children to no longer rely on either means of self-soothing. Let’s discuss popular yet healthy ways to encourage children to leave pacifiers and thumb-sucking behind.

Positive reinforcement 

If your child does not use their pacifier or suck on their thumb in a situation or time when they usually would, give them a reward like a high-five, words of encouragement, a fun sticker, or time spent together. (Be careful with tangible objects, though. Your child might quickly lose interest in the reward system if they receive too many stickers, temporary tattoos, or whatever else you might use.)

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents and guardians to use positive reinforcement over negative, which can unintentionally create unhelpful power struggles.

Provide Alternatives

Whenever your child feels like sucking on their thumb or using a pacifier, try to engage them in a fun activity that uses their hands. As they do the activity, their desire to suck on their thumb or pacifier will hopefully dissolve, and they will realize that they did not need either habit after all!

If your child uses their pacifier or thumb to fall asleep, you can also try replacing them with another comforting item, like a stuffed animal or blanket. Finding one they are willing to stick with might take a few tries, but it will be worth it! 

Reduce Access

Consider covering their thumbs with gloves, bandages, or baby thumb covers so that they cannot suck their thumb. Just ensure your cover is not choking hazards!

If your child prefers pacifiers, you can attempt going cold turkey by throwing all pacifiers away! Having zero pacifiers available will decrease your or your child’s ability to cave and return to pacifier use. Another option is to taper pacifier access gradually. One way to do this is to monitor use at home and slowly extend the time between pacifier usage or leave the pacifiers at home for increasingly longer periods.

Teach Them Other Comfort Techniques

Many children find comfort in these habits because it is a way of regulating their emotions, like when they are anxious or uncomfortable. In this case, finding the cause and helping them learn how to deal with unpleasant emotions in other ways can be a superb transition that will benefit your child for years to come!

Are you worried about how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles? Yes? Alba Orthodontics has the answers you are looking for!

Alba Orthodontics Can Help Your Child Develop A Healthy, Happy Smile!

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends your child receive their initial evaluation by age seven! Though most children don’t need to begin treatment that young, early assessments allow you and your orthodontist to determine if your child needs to start care sooner rather than later and begin care promptly.

Schedule a free consultation with Alba Orthodontics in Mechanicsburg today to begin your child’s orthodontic journey!