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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers seems to be a happy, everyday part of life.  However, these habits have very harmful effects on the growth of your child's face and cause improper jaw and bite development when continued past 6 - 12 months from birth.  According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), pacifiers should be discontinued by the age of 12 months to avoid the complications which we see all to often.  

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?

Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious.  Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time.  Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold.  Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guide the developing jaws out of correct alignment.

Tooth decay – Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance.  Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.

Roof narrowing – The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged, repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results.  In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In some cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time; however, most parents simply have to "bite the bullet" and take the pacifiers away.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • After the age of 3, Dr. Dahm will talk with your child to see if they are ready to stop a finger or pacifier habit.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Using Mavala Stop,  which is a clear fingernail polish with a very bitter taste may help.  It won't stop finger sucking; it will just remind your child when they put a finger in their mouth without thinking about it.  
  • Dahm Dental can insert a specialized dental appliance in your child's mouth to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your Dahm Dental can provide more guidance.  Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!


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