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Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use


Children are born with a natural sucking reflex. In fact, babies begin to suck on their fingers while still in the womb. Sucking a thumb or pacifier is relatively harmless during the first few months of life and may actually be emotionally comforting to an infant. However, prolonged sucking that lasts into the preschool years may cause long-term oral complications.

Did you know…

Did you know that children who simply ‘rest’ their thumbs in their mouths rather than vigorously sucking on them are less likely to develop complications? It is the aggressive sucking that can cause such harmful damage to the primary teeth. Fortunately, most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own – often due to peer pressure from other kids.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of complications might my child experience if he or she continues to thumb-suck past age 2 to 4?

Thumb-sucking that persists past the preschool years may damage your child’s palate or affect the alignment of his or her teeth. Alignment issues affecting the primary teeth often correct themselves. Once the permanent teeth emerge, however, thumb-sucking may cause them to protrude forward, requiring major orthodontic intervention.

Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from sucking his or her thumb or pacifier?

Positive reinforcement is the most effect means of encouraging a child to stop taking a pacifier or sucking his or her thumb. Praise your child for successes, and keep your child distracted when he or she would otherwise naturally reach for a thumb or pacifier. Never use pressure or punishment to stop your child from sucking a thumb or pacifier.

When should I talk to my child’s pediatric dentist about thumb-sucking?

Your child should already be seeing a dentist by age one. Keep the dentist aware of any changes in your child’s sucking habits over time. Notify your child’s dentist immediately if you notice any changes to your child’s teeth or the roof of his or her mouth. Older children who do not stop sucking their thumbs naturally by age four may need to be fitted for an oral appliance that prevents thumb-sucking.

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