Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Usage

Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier UsageIs your child a habitual thumb-sucker or pacifier user? Are pacifiers and thumb-sucking always a bad thing? Like many parents, you may be concerned about your child’s habit and wonder if it is harmful. Questions like “what age should the habit be broken”, and “what will happen if my child does not stop” may arise in your head. Though these habits may be soothing to infants and young children and are fine for the time being, continuing past a certain age can cause many oral health concerns.

It’s natural

Pacifiers, thumb-sucking, or finger-sucking are not entirely bad habits. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry understands and recognizes that thumb-sucking, finger-sucking, and pacifier usage is normal for infants and young children. This habit often begins in the womb and continues into early childhood helping babies to feel happy and safe as they explore their new world.

Many children stop sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4 as they become more confident in exploring their surroundings. However, if your child does not stop after the age of 4, parents should intervene as this may result in serious and even permanent oral health complications.

How does it affect my child’s teeth?

As your child grows, thumb-sucking and pacifier usage may cause problems with the proper growth and development of his or her mouth. These include jaw misalignment, tooth decay, roof narrowing, slanting of teeth, mouth sores, and altered bites or malocclusions. Children who continue thumb-sucking and pacifier usage into childhood are put at an increased risk of developing speech impediments and the need for orthodontic treatment.

It is important to note that pacifiers and other objects that your child may suck on will affect your child’s oral health the same way as thumb or finger-sucking.

Many pediatric dentists recommend parents begin to discourage their children from this habit after the age of 3.

How can I help my child break this habit?

As mentioned above, it is a normal habit developed in the womb and seen as a method of soothing or calming oneself. Every child is different so there may be a period of trial and error as you find a method that works for your child. Remember to be patient as he or she discovers a new way to be calmed.

We have a few considerations and tips you can use to discourage your child from sucking on his or her thumb, pacifier, or fingers.

Use positive reinforcement. If your child accomplishes a task without sucking on his or her thumb or pacifier, show praise for doing a good job.

Often these habits are used to comfort or soothe a child during stressful times. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety and provide alternate forms of comfort such as a special toy or blanket. Sing a happy song or read a story to soothe him or her into a state of comfort.

For older children, involve them in the process. Discuss with them why they should stop so that they understand the reasoning behind your discouragement.

We are here for you and your child. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns or would like us to aid in encouraging your child to stop thumb-sucking.

For more information on the effects of thumb-sucking and pacifier usage, contact Iowa Pediatric Dental Center today.

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