How Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

Did you know that modern pacifiers have been around since 1901 when a pharmacist in Manhattan invented them? Before 1901, people gave their children similar objects to chew and suck on, sometimes consisting of wood, ivory, and even silver, among other materials. 

No matter the style, pacifiers have been popular for many, many, many years and are seen by some as crucial to a person’s childhood. Thumb sucking has been around for the same duration of time, if not longer, than man-made teething tools and is seen as cute and endearing. But are pacifiers and thumb-sucking helpful or harmful to your child’s oral development? Let’s find out!

Keep reading below to learn about Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics’ thoughts about the benefits and dangers of pacifiers and thumb sucking.

What Are Pacifiers And Thumb Sucking Used For?

Pacifiers and thumb sucking are used for a variety of purposes. Pacifiers can calm an upset or fussy baby, and thumb sucking is a way for a child to self-soothe when they are feeling negative emotions. Both act as distractions during uncomfortable moments, such as doctor appointments or dealing with overstimulation. Some babies and toddlers have difficulty sleeping without something to suck on. If your family spends a lot of time on airplanes, pacifiers help young children feel more comfortable by popping their ears. Pacifiers can even reduce the risk of SIDs in babies aged one to six months. Both pacifiers and thumb sucking aid in relieving discomfort caused by teething.

And these are not the only benefits! Ask Dr. Yu at Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics or your doctor or dentist for a complete breakdown of the advantages of both options before choosing which to encourage in your child.*

*It is important to note that you should not force one onto your child, especially if they have a preference. If you feel their choice is damaging, speak to Dr. Yu before encouraging changes.

Dangers of Prolonged Pacifier Use and Thumb Sucking.

Unfortunately, like with most things in life, too much of a good thing is a bad thing! Non-dental issues include but are not limited to, pacifier dependency for sleeping and increased risk of ear infection. 

Regarding orthodontics and dental issues, prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking can cause the teeth to become overcrowded or spaced out and change how your child’s jaw develops. Teeth shifting and jaw development issues caused by pacifiers and thumb sucking have the potential to cause the following problems to your child’s smile.

  • Oral Health Issues. Malocclusion could make it challenging for your child to brush and floss, making it difficult to clean the teeth and gums effectively. Bacteria and plaque they cannot remove from the mouth can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and infections. If the health concerns progress enough, it can cause long-lasting damage to the gums and jaw bone even if your child still has all their baby teeth.
  • Low Self-esteem. — As the child gets older, they might feel self-conscious of their smile due to their misaligned teeth. 
  • Speech Impediment. — Malocclusion can cause your child to develop a speech impediment that makes it difficult for them to communicate.
  • Misaligned Jaw. — An improperly aligned jaw can make eating, speaking, oral hygiene, and breathing uncomfortable and challenging. 
  • Open Bite. Teeth that are angled outward. This bite can make it difficult for the mouth to close.
  • Cross Bite. — When the upper teeth fit behind or inside the lower teeth.
  • Changes To The Roof Of The Mouth And Upper Jaw. 
  • Protruding Front Teeth. 
  • And more dental issues! Bad breath, pain, and insecurities caused by the problems above could result in isolation, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. They could also result in behavioral problems, such as poor academic performance and acting out. Feeling different from or being bullied by peers due to your appearance and suffering from oral health issues can be frustrating and emotionally harmful. Fortunately, mild to severe orthodontic treatment could solve all of the previously mentioned side effects of prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking. However, it’s best to avoid preventable problems if possible.

How & When Do You Wean Your Child From Pacifier Use Or Thumb Sucking?

Fortunately (again), your child can maximize the benefits and avoid these oral health or cosmetic issues if pacifier use and thumb sucking are monitored closely by guardians and stopped at the appropriate time. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggest weaning children away from pacifiers and thumb sucking no earlier than six months and being completely off of both by age three. 

Weaning your child off pacifiers and thumb sucking can be tricky, but it’s not impossible! Here are a few ways to encourage your child to discontinue these habits.

  • Comfort. Many children find comfort in these habits because it is a way of regulating their emotions, especially if they are feeling negative feelings such as anxiety or discomfort. Finding the cause of these negative emotions and helping them work past them or learn how to deal with them in other ways can be incredibly helpful in this transition. One way to help them kick the pacifier to the curb and prevent thumb sucking is to comfort them when they are upset or teach them new ways to self-soothe.
  • Reward. — Reward your children for not sucking their thumb or reaching for the pacifier in moments when they usually would. You could reward them in less stressful moments, too.
  • Replace.If your child uses sucking as a way to relax or comfort themselves when they are sleepy, offer replacement items instead. Finding one they are willing to stick with might take a few tries, but it will be worth it!
  • Cover. — Consider covering their thumbs with gloves, bandages, or baby thumb covers. Just ensure they are not choking hazards!
  • Throw The Pacifier Away. For some families, quitting cold turkey by throwing the pacifier away was the way to go. If you can’t throw it away just yet, try not bringing the pacifier with you when you leave the house for extended periods to show your child that everything is okay, even if they don’t have access to it.

There are other pacifier and thumb sucking weaning methods that you could try that are not listed here. The best option for you and your child depends on various factors, and we recommend doing some research before choosing one for a seamless and stress-free transition.

How Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking Affect Kids SmilesAdult & Pediatric Orthodontics Has The Information And Expertise You And Your Family Need For The Best Results.

If you are overwhelmed by the options or confused about what the best route is for you and your child, Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics can help! Schedule a free in-person or virtual consultation with us today, or contact our office to speak to a helpful team member. We would love to help set you and your family up for development success and provide orthodontic treatment if necessary.

We hope to hear from you soon!