The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers – updated 2018

The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers – updated 2018

Posted by Nickles on Aug 15 2018, 08:36 AM

The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers – updated 2018

It’s common for babies and children to suck on their thumbs, fingers, or a pacifier. This is a typical practice because it helps children and babies to feel comforted and is a natural reflex for them. However, as natural as this reflex may be for babies and children, it can cause damage to their teeth and mouths if it is carried on for too long.

Why Thumb-Sucking?

Babies are born with a natural need or urge to suck on something.  This instinct is easily apparent as babies explore the world and begin putting everything they can into their mouths. The urge decreases after about 6 months, but lots of babies keep sucking their thumbs or fingers to calm themselves when they’re falling asleep. As they get older, they will also sometimes suck their thumbs when they feel hungry, restless, scared, or tired. Children tend to naturally wean themselves at around age 3, but if the sucking continues past age 5, this could be a sign of emotional disorder or problem.

What Are the Effects of Thumb-Sucking?

Thumb-sucking or sucking on a pacifier often helps babies calm themselves and then fall asleep more easily. However, if children are allowed to suck on pacifiers or on their thumbs or fingers after their teeth have begun developing, major problems can arise. Aggressively or even not aggressively, sucking on thumbs can ruin the alignment of teeth and create a need for costly dental work in the future. Excessive sucking on a pacifier after the teeth have grown in can even lead to numerous middle-ear infections and sometimes require surgery to fix the issue.

If you have a preschool-age child or a child younger than that, you probably don’t need to worry about any lasting effects from using a pacifier or sucking their thumb. If your child begins to develop a speech problem, has dental issues, or even develops a callus on their thumb, then it is likely the time to think about helping your child to stop with either of these habits.

Some long term effects of thumb sucking beyond the age of 5-6 years include:

  • Teeth being pushed around, which might cause an overbite or an underbite to form
  • A lisp being formed because constant thumb sucking can affect the jaw bone positioning
  • Germs from your thumb and surrounding areas affecting your body
  • The roof of the mouth becoming altered or more sensitive

Watch this video for tips about when to wean your child from a pacifier.

Approximately 30% of children in pre-school continue to suck their thumbs. Here are some helpful tips on how you can stop your child from sucking their thumbs at this point:

  1. Don’t nag or punish your child for sucking their thumbs as it may create stress and a reason to suck their thumbs more.
  2. Teach your child the reasons why they can’t continue to suck their thumbs. Explain to them the long term effects of such a habit and what that might entail.
  3. Eliminate sources of stress which could be the reason why your child sucks their thumbs.
  4. When your child sucks their thumb, distract them with a toy or a song.

How Do You Help Your Child Stop?

One of the hardest parts of parenting can be helping your child to stop sucking their thumb or on a pacifier. This is challenging because often times the pacifier or thumb is what helps your child fall asleep and stay asleep at night. However, if these habits are not stopped at the right time, serious dental problems and speech impediments can occur. One common way that parents help their children change these behaviors is by setting strict rules as to when their child can use one, such as only when they are in bed for the night.

Another way to help children stop the habit of sucking their thumbs is to cover their hands with socks while they sleep so that they can’t get to their thumbs while they’re sleeping. Some parents find that it helps to use tape to help keep the socks in place throughout the night. You can also try implementing a rewards chart so that your child can visually see the progress they are making. A positive attitude can help your child feel confident in themselves and help speed the process along. Praising their success rather than scolding their failure is fundamental.

If these solutions don’t work for your child, you can also ask your dentist about prescribing a bitter- tasting medication. Coating their pacifier or their thumb in a bitter-tasting medication can help them learn to stop because they won’t want to have the taste in their mouth. Always make sure to be very careful with the kind of topical ointment you use. Some bitter-tasting things can actually be very harmful to children, so it’s best to check with Dr. Daniel Nickles before using any household items. Getting a prescribed bitter-tasting medication is a safe way to help your child stop.

Other methods for helping your child stop using a pacifier revolve around getting rid of the satisfaction of sucking on it by cutting it shorter or piercing it through. This lessens the satisfaction that children get from sucking on the pacifier and therefore lessens their desire for it. Some parents have found that leaving the pacifier behind on a family trip or outing is a good way of helping their child quit the habit. Some have even found that taking all of the pacifiers away and going cold turkey has proven successful in helping their child to stop.

It’s also important to remember that when older children suck their thumbs, it’s often a result of feelings of insecurity, discomfort, or anxiety — you can help them stop by listening to their emotional needs and helping them to feel comfort, love, and support. When they are emotionally healthy and stable, their symptomatic and reactive thumb-sucking can stop and dental damage can be avoided.

Thumb-sucking or using pacifiers are not inherently bad things for your children, but they can create unfortunate dental problems if these habits are not stopped at the right time. Use these tips to help your child before their teeth are affected.

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