Thumb sucking and pacifier use


Sucking is a natural reflex for infants. Sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and comfortable.

Ultrasound pictures show babies begin to suck on their thumb or other fingers when they are in the womb.
Babies usually stop sucking between the ages of two and four years old. If sucking on thumb or pacifier continue until permanent teeth appear, it may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment and cause changes in the roof of the mouth. The intensity of the dental problems that can arise depends on the intensity of the sucking.
The ADA offers the following tips for how to break the thumb sucking habit:

  • Instead of scolding the child for thumb sucking, offer praise for not doing so.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
  • Your dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.

If these tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.
Pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs.  However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and it is often an easier habit to break. If your child gets used to pacifier, some important measures should be taken into considerations for example, use a clean pacifier but never dip the pacifier in sugar, honey or other sweeteners before giving it to an infant.