The Effects of Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers

Although babies have a natural instinct to suck, they also naturally begin to lose this desire around the six-month milestone. That being said, this behaviour can continue, especially if your child is offered a pacifier to assist in keeping them calm or to help them sleep. As a parent, it is important to understand the damage thumb sucking and pacifier use can have on your child’s teeth and development. Here are some of the issues that can occur if your baby is allowed to continue thumb sucking or using a pacifier beyond the age of two.

The effects of thumb sucking and pacifiers

The Act of Thumb Sucking

As mentioned, the act of sucking provides comfort for infants and this instinct continues as they get older and begin to explore. This is why babies will put everything they hold into their mouths. This instinct begins to fade by the time they reach the age of six months and is usually completely gone by the age of two. However, if a child is allowed to continue sucking their thumb or a pacifier to keep them from crying, this becomes a stronger habit.

The longer a child is allowed to thumb suck or use a pacifier the more difficult it becomes for them to stop, as they will become dependent on the behaviour to help them fall asleep, calm themselves or curb their hunger. Although babies can naturally stop this on their own, it is not uncommon for children to continue doing this well into their pre-school years.

The Effects of Thumb Sucking

Once your child begins to develop teeth, thumb sucking, or pacifier use can lead to some serious issues. The main issue is alignment, which can lead to extremely costly dental work including orthodontic treatments. This can also cause aesthetic issues and lead to self-esteem problems for your child. A dentist specializing in child care can provide you with the assessment you need to identify potential issues.

Aside from dental issues, a child who is constantly sucking on their thumb or pacifier can develop a speech impediment. This can be difficult to overcome and can also be costly if they require speech therapy.

If your child continues to suck their thumb or pacifier beyond the age of five they could experience more serious issues later, including:

  • Teeth alignment issues such as an overbite or an underbite
  • Overcrowding of the teeth, crooked teeth, and/or bite issues
  • Jaw alignment issues, which can lead to speech impediments such as a severe lisp
  • Issues with the roof of the mouth, including sensitivity and alterations

It is in your child’s best interest to wean them off of their thumb sucking and pacifier use as early as possible, so they can avoid any unpleasant effects that will require treatment later in life.

Tips to Stop Thumb Sucking

Despite all of these facts, as many as 30% of children continue to suck their thumbs into their pre-school years. Here are our top tips to stop thumb sucking:

  • Avoid nagging or punishment to get your child to stop sucking their thumb. These strategies will only causes stress and cause the child to to do it more.
  • If the child is old enough to understand, explain the long-term effects of the habit so they understand how it will affect their life and the potential treatments they might require as a result.
  • Try to avoid situations that cause them stress.
  • Use a distraction to replace this form of comfort and help stop them from sucking such as a favourite toy but avoid using something like a cell phone or tablet as this can lead to a new habit!

Early Intervention

Nothing is more difficult than taking something away from your child when they appear content. It is also easy for you as a parent to form the habit of offering a pacifier, as it can be stressful if a baby won’t stop crying or keeps you up at night. However, the sooner you avoid these habits from forming, the sooner your child will learn how to calm themselves in different ways. The consequences of thumb sucking are far more difficult to deal with then crying or sleepless nights including uncomfortable dental treatments, self-esteem issues and even communication issues if they form a speech impediment.

The first step can begin with you making a conscious effort to limit the behaviour as early as possible. When it comes to pacifiers you have a few more options than the thumb, because you can take the pacifier away from your child. You can choose to stop offering a pacifier as the simplest way to put an end to dependence, but keep in mind this will more than likely come with some crying and fussing. Instead, you might set rules. For example, the pacifier can only be used in cases where they are inconsolable. Again, the younger your child is when you do this, the easier it will be.

It can be more challenging to stop them from thumb sucking especially while they sleep. Some parents have had success placing socks over their baby’s hands when they sleep. If your child is older, you could use a rewards system to help show them they are making progress in their efforts to kick the habit. Using a chart with gold stars or stickers they can stick on themselves works well as they can see their progress. Positive feedback when they avoid the behaviour also works well.

If nothing is working you can speak to us and we can prescribe a bitter-tasting medication that can be coated on their thumb or pacifier. This medication is not harmful and works by taking away the satisfaction of sucking.

Emotional Issues

If your child continues to require thumb sucking or a pacifier beyond the age of five you might also consider speaking to your doctor. This can often be a sign something is happening with them emotionally such as feelings of anxiety, stress, or insecurity. By providing as much support, love and calm in their lives as possible, you can help them feel safe in their environment and avoid getting into the habit of sucking to help calm themselves.

If you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking or the development of their teeth and would like more information, call Smile Town at (519) 749-9981 or contact us here.