Thumb sucking & Pacifiers: Self Soothing vs. Damaging

CWD EditorPediatric Dentistry & Children

Why do children suck their thumbs? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer because thumb sucking isn’t an issue for all children. At best, health experts can only speculate that the practice provides children with a sense of comfort because “babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes, which can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers into their mouths — sometimes even before birth.”

For parents of children who do suck their thumbs, what can be done to break the habit? How can thumb sucking and pacifiers affect your child’s teeth? At what age is damage more apparent? At Cottonwood Dental we believe it is important to begin dental health with your children when they are young.

Representatives of the American Dental Association suggest parents who fuss at or otherwise shame their children for sucking their thumbs may exacerbate the problem, especially if it is a coping mechanism. They go on to state that parents should use positive reinforcement (e.g., praise them when they don’t suck their thumbs) and “focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and comfort the child.” If this habit continues after the age of four, parents should strongly discourage.

If the above methods fail, parents are advised to discuss the matter with their children’s’ health care provider to see if “a mouth appliance or medication” would be better deterrents.

Not doing anything and simply waiting for your children to outgrow this habit can be a very costly mistake. Research shows that pacifiers and thumb sucking can cause damage to teeth and their alignment during the growth phases that take place between the ages of two and seven. It can also cause the child to have an open bite, crossbite or an overbite which can then lead to the need to braces at a later age.

Schedule your child’s next appointment with Dr. G to maintain healthy gums and teeth.