How Pacifiers And Thumb-Sucking Can Affect Kids’ Smiles

At Petrunic Orthodontics, we love working to help our clients feel as informed as possible about all things orthodontics! When it comes to topics to be experts on, nothing is more important than our kids! And that’s what we’re interested in talking about today. Specifically, let’s talk about how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles. We thought it’d be a good idea to get with Prattville’s own Dr. Petrunic so he can fill us in. Why do kids suck their thumbs anyway? Is it ok, or should a pacifier be encouraged? And when is it time to have them stop? 

We’ll answer all these questions and more, so keep reading!

Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking – What’s Acceptable? 

First thing first – it’s important to remember that all babies are born with the natural urge to suck – it’s vital to their development. This important reflex encourages them to feed, and it’s a significant factor in calming them and getting them ready for sleep. That’s something that any new parent can appreciate! 

So, that being said, what part should a pacifier or thumb-sucking take in your child’s development? Let’s cover a few basics. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: 

  • Offer the pacifier only when your baby is not hungry; don’t let it replace or delay meals.
  • Don’t insist on the pacifier if your baby doesn’t want it.
  • Never attach the pacifier to your child’s crib, neck, or hand; it is extremely dangerous and can cause severe harm or even death.
  • If your child relies on the pacifier to fall asleep, they may wake up when it falls out. If your child is too young to replace it themselves or cannot locate it within the crib’s reach, you may need to wake up and retrieve it for them.”

Remember, some people get the misconception that thumb-sucking is inherently a bad thing or that it should be discouraged. In reality, there’s no reason to believe that’s the case. Some children simply would rather suck their thumb than a pacifier.

When Should I Ween My Child Off Pacifiers or Thumb-Sucking? 

Now that we’ve talked a bit about healthy sucking behavior, let’s learn more about how much is too much. 

The general rule of thumb (no pun intended) is two to four years. Once your child has reached age two, encouraging them to self-soothe a little less with a pacifier or by sucking their thumb is probably a good idea. This is because excessive sucking at this stage of your child’s development could lead to issues regarding the shape of their mouth and how the teeth come in. 

Again, it’s important not to stress out too much about this – chances are that if your child stops sucking before the permanent teeth come in, any orthodontic issues will self-correct. Of course, this is specific to each child, so if sucking past this stage is particularly excessive, this could lead to issues Dr. Petrunic may be needed to sort out. 

How Thumb-Sucking And Pacifiers Can Affect Your Child's Smile

How to Help Your Child Move On

As parents, one of our most important jobs is guiding our children toward healthy habits, including transitioning from pacifiers and thumb-sucking. While it’s important not to create stress or shame around these behaviors, gently encouraging your child to stop sucking can help prevent potential orthodontic issues. Here are some strategies to support your child’s transition:

  • Slow and Steady Weaning: If your child is particularly attached to their pacifier or thumb-sucking, consider implementing a gradual weaning process. Start by limiting their time with their pacifier or thumb each day, gradually decreasing it. This method allows them to adjust at their own pace.
  • Distraction Techniques: When you notice your child reaching for their thumb or pacifier, provide alternative activities or toys to keep their hands and mind occupied. Engaging them in a game, puzzle, or creative activity can redirect their attention away from the habit.
  • Role Modeling: Children often mimic the behaviors they observe in their parents and older siblings. Show them how you manage stress or find comfort without relying on oral habits. You can inspire your child to follow suit by being a positive role model.
  • Open Communication: Talk to your child about the importance of growing up and caring for their teeth. Explain that quitting sucking habits will help them have a strong, beautiful smile. Encourage them to share any concerns or feelings they have about stopping and reassure them that you are there to support them throughout the process.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts when they refrain from sucking their thumb or using a pacifier. Offer small rewards or create a fun chart where they can mark their progress. Celebrating their achievements can motivate them to continue making positive changes.
  • Call in the Experts: If your child keeps relying heavily on sucking habits no matter what, it may be worth considering giving Dr. Petrunic a call. He can offer personalized guidance and support, as well as additional strategies to help your child move on in their development. 

Remember that every child is different, and the process of quitting sucking habits can look different, too. Patience, understanding, and consistency are always crucial. Adding these gentle strategies to your playbook and working closely with your child can help them quickly move past this perfectly normal stage of their life. 

How Thumb-Sucking And Pacifiers Can Affect Your Child's Smile

Call Today for Your Free Consultation 

Thanks for taking the time to learn a little more about how thumb-sucking and pacifiers can affect your child’s smile. We hope you’ve learned more about it and can feel confident moving forward with your little one’s development. 

Now all that’s left for you to do is come see us at Petrunic Orthodontics! We offer free consultations, so call us today at (334) 365-2909 at our Prattville office or just fill out this convenient online form

We can’t wait to see you!