Why Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking Cause Dental Problems

Gentle Dental

Cute newborn baby girl with nursing bottles, rattle and pacifier. Formula drink for babies. New born child, little girl laying in bed. Family, new life, childhood, beginning, bottle-feeding concept.

It’s not uncommon for infants to suck on their thumbs or pacifiers, especially to give themselves comfort. Over time, however, these habits can have a negative impact on oral development. Here’s what parents should know about pacifiers, thumb sucking and teeth.

Do Pacifiers Affect Teeth?

While babies love their pacifiers, many parents are rightly concerned about their effect on oral development. Over time, a pacifier can cause a mouth to grow improperly, leading to abnormal tooth development, along with numerous other issues. For this reason, it’s best to limit the use of pacifiers and discontinue their use altogether as quickly as possible.

Do Pacifiers Make Your Teeth Crooked?

The long-term use of pacifiers changes both the alignment of the teeth and shape of a developing mouth. As infants mature, their jaws will grow around any device repeatedly held within their mouths. Since the pacifier tips an infant’s mouth upward, teeth can become crooked. Pacifiers can also cause bite problems, along with alignment issues with the jaw.

As the mouth forms around the device, babies can develop common developmental irregularities known as “pacifier teeth.” Unfortunately, this can have long-term repercussions, requiring painful and expensive dental treatments to restore the teeth and jaw to a normal state.

Thumb Sucking and Teeth

A natural reflex for children, thumb sucking helps babies feel secure, as they experience the brand new world around them. Once permanent teeth begin to develop, however, thumb sucking can cause development problems with teeth and the roof of the mouth.

Usually, the intensity of the sucking action works to determine whether dental issues will occur. When children vigorously suck their thumbs many times throughout the day, they are more likely to suffer developmental problems, compared to children who passively suck their thumbs every now and then.  

What Should Parents Do about Thumb Sucking?

Most experts recommend that parents use pacifiers to prevent thumb sucking, since the former is easier to control. The University of Rochester Medical Center provides a comprehensive guide for parents that explains the right and wrong ways to use a pacifier. You can avoid potential problems by thoroughly reading this resource.

With all that said, the American Dental Association says that thumb sucking and pacifiers should be phased out by the time a child’s first adult teeth begin to develop.

While it’s not always easy to break sucking habits, there are a few strategies that can help, including:

  • Avoid scolding the child, focusing instead on praising him or her for demonstrating good habits.
  • Since children tend to suck their thumbs when they feel insecure, try to identify triggers and help your child learn new ways to cope.
  • Reward your child whenever he or she consciously refrains from sucking on his or her thumb or pacifier.
  • Temporarily place a sock or bandage around your child’s hand to make him or her more aware of the habit.

If these strategies don’t work, your local dentist can prescribe a mouth appliance or medication, which coats the thumb to make the act of sucking less desirable. Whatever you do, avoid shaming or punishing the child for thumb sucking, since this can actually reinforce the habit, as the child looks for ways to cope with the reprimand.

The Importance of Dental Visits

Many times, parents are not aware of oral developmental issues until a dentist points them out. To make sure your child’s teeth, jaw and oral structures are developing normally, it’s important to schedule a dental appointment the moment you first notice teeth developing.

When developmental problems are ignored, children can have problems that persist well into adulthood. By catching these issues early, however, your dentist can provide solutions that preserve your child’s oral health and dental aesthetics now and long into the future.