Despite what your grandmother may have told you, using a pacifier and thumb-sucking are not very bad things. (Babies do it even in the womb!) It’s natural, it’s a normal developmental habit and it can be very comforting for babies and younger children.
However, it does need to be limited and stopped as kids get older so damage isn’t done to the teeth, the mouth or jaw. The teeth can grow in at a strange angle, or the sucking habit can also affect a child’s bite. Parents should also keep in mind that some kids need help to break the sucking habit.
Dentists often recommend that the sucking habit be left behind after age 3 if it hasn’t happened spontaneously.
For National Children’s Dental Health Month, Delta Dental of Washington has offered three tips on how to ease your child out of the pacifier or thumb-sucking habit, as well as recommending that families consult a pediatric dentist for a thorough evaluation of all young kids’ teeth starting at a year old (or six months after the first tooth erupts, whichever comes first):
“Praise is Key. Praise your child when they are not sucking their thumb or pacifier. Sucking behaviors are often a coping mechanism for anxiety and insecurity. Praising your child in situations which make them uncomfortable will encourage alternative healthy coping mechanisms that will be helpful to your child for the rest of their life.”
“Use Reminders. Adults know how hard it is to break habits, because we often do them without thinking. It is the same for a child who is working towards eliminating their thumb-sucking habit. By using a physical reminder – like a bandage on a thumb during the day, or a sock over their hand at night – it can help alert the child to their habit and remind them to try a different coping mechanism in that moment.”
“Knowledge is Power. Empower your child to actively participate and understand why it’s time to replace their thumb-sucking or pacifier habit with something else by explaining why it’s important to stop those behaviors when they reach a certain age. Their pediatric dentist can help explain to them why it is important to stop and how their oral health will be affected in terms they can easily understand.”