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Breaking Habits: Sucking On Thumbs and Pacifiers

Babies are born with an instinct for sucking to help them get their sustenance from the mother’s breast. Sucking on their thumbs or on pacifiers provides a sense of comfort and security to the babies, while away from their mothers, that keeps them calm and happy.

While this instinct is very important for a baby, a constant sucking habit can also have damaging effects on the development of their teeth in the future. Most babies naturally grow out of this habit around the ages of two and four, when they become more accustomed and secure in their environment. However, in many cases, it is found that children continue to suck their thumbs or pacifiers beyond a reasonable age, which is a reason to worry.

As a dentist near you will advise when consulted, pacifiers are largely favoured over thumb-sucking as it is an easier habit to break. Some precautions to bear in mind before offering a pacifier to your baby:

  • Never dip the pacifier in honey or sugar as that can cause gum infection.
  • Try to use orthodontically designed pacifiers that can reduce possible harm to the development of teeth in the future.
  • Keep the use of a pacifier to the minimum so that breaking the habit is easier.
  • Never use home-made pacifiers created out of bottle nipples or other materials that can pose choking hazards for the baby.

Even with these precautions, you cannot prevent the damages that long-term pacifier use or thumb-sucking can cause. It is best to get your child to quit this habit at the right time before it results in severe damage.

Some dental complications that arise out of over-use of pacifiers are:

  • Misalignment of teeth
  • Changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth
  • Misalignment of jaw

The risk of these dental issues is greatly increased if the thumb-sucking or pacifier use is continued even after the baby starts developing teeth. In such a situation, it is advisable to consult with a pediatric dentist near you to discuss the best ways to break the pacifier sucking habit of your child.

There are other negatives of prolonged thumb-sucking or pacifier use, such as:

  • The dependency of your baby on the pacifier.
  • Chances of developing a middle-ear infection.
  • Disrupting breast-feeding.

Considering the negative impacts of long-term sucking of a thumb or a pacifier, it is best to gradually help your child grow out of this habit as their teeth begin to come in. If, however, you feel your toddler is finding it difficult to give up this habit, here are some ways to intervene:

  1. Gradually decrease the amount of time your toddler spends sucking their thumb or pacifier. Unlike thumb-sucking, pacifier-use can be controlled by parents hence this method works best with children used to pacifiers.
  2. Offer rewards for time-off from pacifiers or thumb-sucking to encourage your child to give up this practice.
  3. Encourage them to use other toys or personal belongings for comfort and security, like a blanket or a soft-toy.
  4. Thumb-sucking is a tougher habit to break so you might have to use some over the counter cream to apply over the thumb. It tastes bad and will discourage the child from sucking their thumb.
  5. For more severe cases of prolonged pacifier sucking, there are dental devices available to restrict and control this habit. You can consult with a pediatric dentist in Port Moody to find the device that works best for your child.

It might be a long and tiring process to get your child out of the habit of sucking a thumb or a pacifier, but one that is necessary for the overall well-being of both of you! Do not hesitate to call us at Mint Dental, your neighbourhood dentist in Port Moody, to share any concerns you might have about your child’s thumb or pacifier-sucking habits.