Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits
Q: Why do children suck on fingers, pacifiers or other objects?
A: This type of sucking is a natural reflex for babies and young children. It provides security and given that thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep. For young babies, it's a way to make contact with and learn about the world. In fact, babies begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born.
Q: Are these habits bad for the teeth and jaws?
A: Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between two and four years of age. No harm is done to their teeth or jaws. However, some children repeatedly suck on a finger, pacifier or other object over long periods of time. In these children, the upper front teeth may tip toward and the lower front teeth are pushed backward resulting in a space between the upper and lower front teeth (“buck teeth”).
Q: When should I worry about a sucking habit?
A: Your Pediatric Dentist will carefully watch the way your child's teeth come in and jaws develop, keeping the sucking habit in mind at all times. Thumb sucking is perfectly normal for infants and most stop by age two. If your child does not, discourage it after age four; in addition, peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop. Prolonged thumb sucking can create crowded/crooked teeth, and bite/jaw developmental problems. For most children, there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until the permanent front teeth are ready to come in.
Q: What can I do to stop my child's habit?
A: Most children stop sucking habits on their own, but some children need the help of their parents and their pediatric dentist. Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not. Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure; therefore, focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking. Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide the comfort. When your child is old enough to understand the possible results of a sucking habit, your pediatric dentist can encourage your child to stop, as well as talk about what happens to the teeth if your child doesn't stop. An additional resource is a book called David Decides About Thumbsucking - A Story for Children, a Guide for Parents by Susan Heitler. Finally, if none of these approaches work, your pediatric dentist may recommend a mouth appliance that blocks sucking habits.
Q: Are pacifiers a safer habit for the teeth than thumbs or fingers?
A: Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking all affect the teeth essentially the same way. However, a pacifier habit is often easier to break.