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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers is a happy, everyday part of life.  Since sucking is a natural, instinctual baby habit, infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a thumb or pacifier as a sucking aid.

According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old.  Thumb sucking can be a harder habit to break and tends to persist for longer without intervention.  Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at high-risk for developing dental complications.

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?

Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious.  Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time.  Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold.  Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guide the developing jaws out of correct alignment.

Tooth decay – Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance.  Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.

Roof narrowing – The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged, repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results.  In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

Mouth sores – Passive sucking is much less harmful than aggressive sucking.  Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.

If you do intend to purchase a pacifier:

  • Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Buy an “orthodontically correct” model.
  • Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid.
  • Rinse with water (as opposed to cleansing with your mouth) to prevent bacterial transmissions.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time.  As children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your pediatric dentist can provide more guidance.  Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

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Testimonials

Dr. Beaty is an awesome Dentist! She also has a terrific Team of assistants who go above and beyond to make all patients feel comfortable. I would probably be the youngest person in history to have dentures if it wasn’t for Dr. Beaty. My family and I have been going to Dr. Beaty for over 20 years. I was looking for a pediatric dentist and when I called the office to make an appointment for another dentist, I was informed that Dr. Beaty had taken over the practice. I was assured she was great with children and she definitely did not disappoint! Dr. Beaty and her staff are excellent with children. My son was 3 and my daughter was 8 when we became patients of Dr. Beaty’s and since that union, my children have always looked forward to going to the dentist. Dr. Beaty – as well as her entire staff – have awesome personalities, terrific bedside manner and just overall kindness and concern for their patients. I have never been to a more dedicated, compassionate dentist who deeply cares about preserving your teeth. Dr. Beaty has always explained all treatment options, procedures, and the costs involved for those procedures. DB Dentistry follows-up with their patients to make sure there are no complications from procedures and that the patient is doing well. Even when she referred my children to the Orthodontist for braces, she made sure to check on their progress and to make sure we (especially the children) were comfortable with her referral. Dr. Beaty made sure that the excellent care her office provided was also being provided by her referral. To add to the excellent patient care, the amenities offered are above and beyond – from the chair massage, to the paraffin hand wax, to the warm neck wrap, to the mellow music. Feels more like going to a spa instead of seeing the dentist. Over the years, I have referred many family members and co-workers to Dr. Beaty and they remain patients. While Dr. Beaty is not an in-network dentist through my insurance, it is WELL worth the few dollars more to have peace of mind, comfort, and awesome care. I often think, I called looking for a dentist and gained a well-trusted and most respected friend. My family loves Dr. Beaty and DB Dentistry. They are THE BEST!!

Sandra

Naturally I spent the weekend on FACEBOOK sharing your artistry! The results are still unbelievable! The transformation is literally life-changing and I can't begin to thank you and your team of professionals enough for making it happen.

Michael

Dear Dr. Beaty,

What I appreciate most about your dental practice is your focus on the future. Rather than scold a patient for poor past dental care, you work with the patient to build better habits going forward.

I also appreciate your efforts to relieve patients’ anxiety about visiting the dentist. Some days the hot neck wrap, paraffin hand dip, or just the pleasant view turn a stressful experience into a relaxing one.

Matthew

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