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Thumb, Finger, and Pacifier Habits and Teeth

Toddler with a pacifier in his mouth.Sucking is a completely natural reflex for infants and toddlers. It is a way to self-soothe that helps little ones feel comforted. It is also how infants explore the world around them. It is very common for infants and toddlers to suck on their thumb or fingers. In the early years, these habits do not cause any harm, and most children naturally lose this reflex by the age of 2. However, if your child continues to suck on their thumb or finger, or use a pacifier, past the age of 3 or 4, this is when issues can develop. If your child is having trouble giving up their thumb, finger, or pacifier habits past the age of 3, Great Grins for KIDS - Portland can help.

Dangers of Thumb, Finger, and Pacifier Habits

Thumb, finger, and pacifier habits are completely normal and natural in the first couple of years of life. Past the age of 3 or 4, however, issues with the teeth can begin developing. With a normal bite, the upper front teeth slightly overlap the bottom front teeth. With a thumb, finger, or pacifier habit, the pressure from sucking can lead to an open bite. This is when the front teeth do not come together properly, creating an open space when your child bites down. These habits can affect normal tooth eruption as well as proper jaw development.

How You Can Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb

In many cases, children give up their thumb sucking habits on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. If your child continues this habit, there are things that you can do to help them give it up.
•  Ignore the habit. Do not make a big deal out of it. In doing so, your child may be more likely to continue. Do your best to ignore it when you notice it.
•  Give your child praise. Praise your child when you notice that they are not sucking their thumb. You may even provide them with a small reward like a sticker.
•  Provide your child with comfort and distractions. Pay attention to what triggers your child to suck their thumb or fingers. If they are doing it because they are upset, provide plenty of hugs and cuddles. If it occurs because of boredom, keep fun little activities nearby to help keep their fingers busy.
•  Give us a call. If your child is having an especially hard time giving up their thumb or finger habits, we can provide additional help. We can help your child to understand the importance of quitting these habits. In some cases, a special oral appliance may be recommended.

What about Pacifier Use?

Effects of pacifier use are essentially the same as thumb and finger habits. In some ways, these habits are easier to break, especially if your child does not keep a pacifier in their mouth all day. Pacifier use is not recommended after two years of age, so we recommend that you start working with your child around the age of 18 months to begin breaking the habit.

There are a few ways that you can do this, including poking holes in the nipple or cutting the very tip off. Praise your child when they are not using it and let them know how proud you are of them. You can also give your child a new comfort object, such as a special stuffed animal or blanket.

Thumb, finger, and pacifier habits are completely normal and natural in the early years of life. Past the age of 3, however, these habits can be quite detrimental to oral development. If you need assistance helping your child to quit their thumb, finger, or pacifier habits, call Great Grins for KIDS - Portland today at (971) 470-0054.
My daughter was a little nervous to have her dental work done but everyone in the office was super friendly and very reassuring and that helped her nervousness go away. Thanks for the excellent dental experience. ~ Lilyana G.

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