Are Thumb-sucking and Pacifiers Bad For My Child’s Teeth?

Japanese baby girl sucking on a pacifier (0 year old)Thumb-sucking and pacifiers have both been a natural source of comfort for children for decades. It’s an instinctual habit; sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects often help babies relax, boosting their moods and leading to soothing sleeping patterns.

However, as comforting as thumb-sucking may be, these habits can be detrimental to your child’s oral health. The intensity of the sucking, or how aggressive your child is sucking on an object, is the determining factor between a harmless practice and a damaging dental issue. For children who passively rest their thumbs in their mouths, dental damage is rare. On the other hand, for kids who vigorously suck on their thumbs several hours a day, there’s a high risk of developmental problems in baby teeth, proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and changes in the roof of the mouth.

Pacifiers can affect your child’s teeth in the same ways, but it is usually an easier habit to break compared to thumb-sucking. Children should stop sucking on objects and fingers around the age of two, or by the time the permanent front teeth begin to erupt through the gums.

If your child is a vigorous thumb-sucker, try the following:

  • Reward or praise your child when they are not sucking.
  • Thumb-sucking is often a subconscious solution to feelings of insecurity or boredom. Focus on solving the source of the thumb-sucking, rather than breaking the habit itself.
  • For an older child, involve him or her in the decision to stop sucking. Explain why it is harmful to their teeth, as well as their overall health, due to the intake of unnecessary germs.
  • Bandage the fingers or thumb.
  • Coat the fingers or thumb in a safe, bitter-tasting coating.
  • Ask your dentist about a mouth appliance.

If you have any other questions regarding thumb-sucking or pacifier use, please do not hesitate to contact your dentist, or leave us a comment below!

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


2 Responses to “Are Thumb-sucking and Pacifiers Bad For My Child’s Teeth?”

  1. Laurie says:

    I believe it is important to take pacifiers away as soon as you can – start limiting around age two but definitely have it gone by the time they are four years old or it can have dental consequences. Great information, thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Laurie, thanks for your comment! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using pacifiers with babies when sleeping – but that doesn’t mean they should be used forever. We are pleased you liked the post. Come visit again.

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