Thumbsucking and Pacifiers: What All Parents Should Know

Thumbsucking and Pacifiers: What All Parents Should Know

It’s perfectly natural for infants to suck on their thumbs and on pacifiers. This reflexive action helps babies feel safe and secure. It can even help them fall asleep faster! While thumbsucking is normal and part of development in infants, if thumbsucking behaviors continue as the child grows older, it’s possible for his or her teeth to be adversely affected. Your dentist can offer personalized guidance on your child’s oral health.

Possible Problems with Thumbsucking

Most children gradually stop sucking their thumbs at around ages two through four. This also coincides with the eruption of the permanent teeth. Once the permanent teeth erupt, there is the potential for continued thumbsucking or pacifier use to adversely affect the development of the oral structures. Specifically, the palate and teeth alignment may develop improperly. The intensity of thumbsucking behaviors can influence the degree to which the oral structures are affected. A child who sucks their thumb or pacifier aggressively is more likely to develop serious dental problems compared to one who merely places a thumb in the mouth.

Tips for Parents of Thumbsuckers

It’s not always easy to convince a young child to stop sucking his or her thumb! If you are concerned that your child isn’t giving up the habit in time, you can speak with a dentist. Your family dentist or a pediatrician may recommend coating the thumb with a bitter substance to discourage sucking behaviors. Sometimes, an oral appliance may be necessary. You can also use positive reinforcement. Praise your child for not resorting to thumbsucking or pacifier use. Offer gentle reminders when you notice your child using those behaviors. In addition, consider the cause of the problem. Children use thumbsucking when they feel insecure. Look for ways of addressing the root causes of insecurity or anxiety.

Your entire family can receive compassionate dental care at the office of John R. Carson, DDS. Our team focuses on preventive wellness, which includes helping parents understand how best to care for their little ones’ smiles. You can reach our dental clinic in Tucson at (520) 514-7203 to schedule an appointment.