+Thumb-Sucking & Pacifier Habits

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Along with favorite dolls, toys and blankets, thumb sucking and pacifier use can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. It is recommended by the AAP to hold off introducing pacifiers, until approx 1 month of life. There are some benefits from pacifier use, such as protective against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). According to a recent study, between 75% – 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so there is a good chance you may have a thumb sucker in your household (or a former thumb sucker). Is this cause for worry?

In most cases, the answer is no. However, it’s important to watch your child’s habits as it can alter their overall oral health and well-being.

What is normal thumb and pacifier sucking behavior?

Thumb-sucking and pacifier use is a natural reflex for an infant and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children will ask for their pacifier or suck their digits while falling asleep. Pacifier use is recommended to be weaned off by 6 months, with 18 months the point we tend to see oral changes. Extended pacifier use can result in ear infections, oral fungal infections and stomach issues.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), most children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of 2-4. However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (studies show that as the child grows, there is a decrease in the habit). If your child is still sucking when his or her permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit.

What signs should I watch for?

First and foremost, watch for how your child sucks his or her thumb. If the sucking is passive (with the thumb gently resting inside the mouth) it is less likely to cause damage. On the other hand, if the thumb sucking is active (aggressively placing pressure on the mouth or teeth) the habit may cause problems with tooth spacing/alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended digit sucking and pacifier use will affect teeth and the shape of the face, leading to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

If you see a change in behavior or bite, give us a call and we can help determine the cause and if any treatment is necessary.

How can I help my child quit thumb sucking?

If you notice your child is digit sucking, try follow these guidelines:

  • Positive reinforcement. Rather than punishing your child for thumb sucking, give praise when he or she doesn’t.
  • Put a sock over the hand and tape the wrist at night. Let your little one know that this is not a punishment, but rather a way to remind to avoid sucking at night.
  • Create a fun and interactive progress chart where your child puts a sticker up every day that he or she doesn’t suck. When your child makes it through a week without the habit, he or she gets to choose a prize. If they get through a whole month of no thumb-sucking, reward your child with something great (a toy or new video game); by then the habit should be over. Being an active participant in his or her treatment will increase the willingness to break the habit.
  • If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious or stressed, work on alleviating the cause of their anxiety.
  • If your child digit sucks during specific times or occasions (watching movies or long care rides), take note and create diversions during these occasions.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the habit of thumb sucking and anger or disappointment will only encourage the habit.

What type of pacifier is better?

Orthodontic pacifiers are recommended over non-orthodontic ones. These allow the jaws to be in a more natural position and less likely to shift due to overuse.

Silicone vs. Latex- I would recommend silicone pacifiers due to a potential allergy to latex.

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