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Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits: The Connection to Dental Health

A study conducted by the American Dental Association found that children who suck their thumbs or use a pacifier after age 4 are more likely to develop dental problems. Prolonged thumb sucking can have many negative effects on your child’s teeth and mouth. Learn more about the association between thumb, finger, and pacifier habits and the impact on your child’s dental health below.

Why do children suck on fingers, pacifiers, or other objects?

This type of sucking is completely normal for babies and young children. It provides security. For young babies, it is 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.

Are these habits bad for the teeth and jaws?

Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers, or other objects on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. However, some children continue these habits over long periods of time.

Prolonged thumb sucking can have many negative effects on your child’s teeth and mouth. This is because of the repetitive pressure the thumb and sucking places on the teeth, jawbone, and roof of the mouth. It may cause any of the following:

  • Overbite – Where the front teeth protrude out from the jaw and mouth
  • Other bite issues – Such as the bottom teeth tipping inward toward the back of the mouth or an open bite, where the top and bottom teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed
  • Changes to the shape of the jaw, which can also affect the alignment of the teeth and speech patterns, such as the development of a lisp.
  • Sensitivity of the roof of the mouth.

When should I worry about a sucking habit?

Your pediatric dentist will carefully watch the way your child’s teeth erupt and jaws develop, keeping the sucking habit in mind at all times. Because persistent habits may cause long-term problems, intervention may be recommended for children beyond 3 or 4 years of age.

What can I do to stop my child’s habit?

Most children stop sucking habits on their own, but some children need the help of their parents and their pediatric dentist. 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 and jaws if your child does not stop. This advice, coupled with support from parents, helps most children quit. If this approach does not work, your pediatric dentist may recommend ways to change the behavior, including a mouth appliance that interferes with sucking habits.

Working with your pediatric dentist

All children should start regular dental visits by 1 year of age. If you notice your child’s front teeth are jutting out, or if your child seems to have a problem with their bite, talk to your pediatric dentist about your concerns.

Your child’s permanent teeth will not start coming in until they are 6 years old. However, damage can be done to their mouths before that time that may or may not correct itself. For that reason, it’s a good idea to talk to a dentist sooner rather than later, especially if you are concerned with their habits. Schedule an appointment with our pediatric dentist today.

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