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Thumb, Finger & Pacifier Habits

Why do children suck on pacifiers, fingers, and other objects (Nonnutritive sucking)?

Babies begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born for security. Sucking is completely normal for babies and young children, as it is a way for them to make contact with and learn about the world.  Pacifiers can provide some great benefits. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, offering pacifiers to infants throughout the first year of life at the onset of sleep at nap time and bedtime reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).   

Are the teeth and jaws affected by these habits?

No harm is done to your child’s teeth or jaws by sucking, however, some children repeatedly suck on an object over extended periods of time. The dental effects of nonnutritive sucking directly correlate with the intensity, frequency, and duration of the habit.  In the case of prolonged sucking, the upper front teeth may tip toward the lip or not grow in properly, which may result in an anterior open bite.  Other possible dental effects may include maxillary constriction and posterior crossbite.

My child has a sucking habit, at what point should I worry?

Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between the age of two and four.  Studies show that it is easier to wean from a pacifier habit than a thumb/digit sucking habit.  Dental effects are generally reversible and unlikely to cause any long-term problems if the habit is discontinued early.  Your pediatric dentist will carefully monitor the way your child’s teeth grow in and jaws develop, keeping the sucking habit in mind at all times. 

Is there a way to prevent my child from their sucking habit?

Your pediatric dentist can encourage your child to stop their sucking habits by talking about what happens to the teeth if they do not stop. Some children need the help of their parents and their dentist, although most children stop their sucking habits on their own. Your pediatric dentist may recommend a reward system or reminder therapy.  If the advice from the pediatric dentist and parents does not work, your dentist may recommend a mouth appliance that blocks sucking habits.  The success of any intervention depends on a child’s willingness to participate and desire to stop their sucking habit.

Here are a few helpful tips:

1. Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise him/her when they are not.

2. Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.

3. Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.

4. Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods.

5. If these approaches don't work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night.  Your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.

6. Your pediatric dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.  Speak with Dr. Bizoumis and/or Dr. Pinnick for more tips or suggestions on getting through the habit

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