Thumb & Pacifier Sucking Habits

It’s very common!

Along with favorite blankets, teddy bears, and nap time, thumb sucking or pacifier use can be one of the most comforting aspects of childhood. According to a recent report, between 75% and 95% of infants suck their thumbs, so chances are there’s a current (or former) thumb sucker in your family. Between 60 – 85% infants Is this cause for worry?

In most cases, the answer is no. However, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s routine in case his or her sucking habit has the potential to affect overall oral health.

What can thumb or pacifier sucking do to the developing mouth, teeth and jaws?

Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking all can affect the teeth essentially the same way. If a child repeatedly sucks on a finger, pacifier or other object over long periods of time, the upper front teeth may tip outward, not meet with the bottom teeth, or not come in properly. Other changes in tooth position and jaw alignment also may occur, such as narrowing of the upper jaw.

When considering sucking habits, we think about duration of the habit, frequency of sucking and intensity of sucking.  Children who suck on fingers or pacifiers intensely, often and for a long period of time will cause the most displacement of teeth.    

Thankfully, when the sucking habit ends as early as possible, there is a great likelihood that the position of the teeth will gradually self-correct; however, the narrowing of the jaw upper jaw often remains.  Prevention is key, so let’s review some ways to help your child quit the habit.

How Can I Help My Child Quit Thumb or Pacifier Sucking?

Should you need to help your child end the habit, follow these guidelines:

  1. Above all, always be supportive and positive. Instead of punishing your child for sucking habits, give praise when he or she doesn’t.  Focus on the positive.
  2. A bitter-tasting product, such as Mavala, painted on the finger may be a useful reminder when your child tries to suck his or her thumb.
  3. Start a progress chart and let your child put a sticker up every day that he or she doesn’t suck a thumb or pacifier. If your child makes it through a week without sucking, he or she gets to choose a prize. Fun nail decals or nail polish or an outing for ice cream are sometimes effective rewards.  
  4. If you notice your child sucking when he or she is anxious, work on alleviating the source of the anxiety and developing alternative coping mechanisms rather than focusing on the thumb sucking.  Kids need lots of TLC during this time.
  5. Some children have a visit from the Paci Fairy who will bring a requested gift in exchange for all of the pacifiers in the house.  Welcome the Paci Fairy’s visit with a great deal of fanfare to increase the excitement for “quitting day.”
  6. Sew it into a Build-a-Bear!  A visit to the local Build-a-Bear is a fun outing and your child can choose a special buddy to “hold” his or her pacifier so it’s not completely gone, just in a different spot for safe-keeping.
  7. Deliver or mail pacifiers to other babies in the family who may have use for them.  Your child can feel a sense of pride in sharing with another child.
  8. Cold turkey!  Sometimes tossing all pacifiers and starting a new week or month without them is the way to go.  There undoubtedly will be some sad days and noisy nights, but after that initial short stretch of time, you may discover that your child doesn’t miss the pacifier.
  9. Snip the tip!  You can gradually cut your child’s pacifiers shorter and shorter to slowly wean away from the satisfaction of sucking.  Frida Baby has created a 5-step Paci Weaning System that includes 5 pacifiers with increasingly shorter nipples to gradually wean your child from the habit.
  10. There are great books that can be read with older children:  Ben Gives Up His Pacifier/Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier by Jenny Album, Pacifiers Are Not Forever by Elizabeth Verdick,and No More Pacifier Duck by Michael Dahl 
  11. Take note of the times your child tends to suck (long car rides, while watching movies) and create diversions during these occasions.

Whatever your method, always remember that your child needs your support and understanding during the process of breaking the habit of thumb sucking.

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