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Pacifiers, Thumb Sucking, And Your Child’s Teeth

Many parents of young children are concerned that thumb sucking and pacifiers can make their baby’s new teeth grow crookedly. They’ve heard well meaning family and friends regale them with a horror story or two. But, is the concern justified? Let’s look at the facts.

Thumb Sucking & Pacifiers
For young babies, sucking isn’t just a natural reflex, it’s an impulse that keeps them alive, deeply connected to hunger and feeding. As they grow and develop, that natural reflex often becomes tied to a sense of comfort and security. Baby is soothed, and it’s often a way to calm them down in preparation for sleep.

That’s all fine, until the first teeth start to show up. Many children continue to suck their thumbs until the age of three or so, on average. It can be a way for children to calm down and feel secure. At what point does thumb sucking begin to interfere with new teeth growth? If the behaviour persists to age 5 or 6, the risk increases.

• It can skew the alignment of teeth as they grow in, leading to the necessity for future dental work.
• It can cause an underbite or overbite.
• The jaw bone position may be altered, causing a lisp or other problems.
• The roof of the mouth may become hypersensitive.
• It can lead to middle-ear infections in some cases.

If your child simply places the pacifier or thumb in their mouth passively, there is less risk of problems. The more aggressive the action, the more likely it is for issues to occur.

Should I Stop My Child?
Problems from thumb sucking or pacifier use are typically not much of an issue in preschool age children, but there are some early warning signs to keep an eye on. If your child develops any of these issues, you should consider trying to wean them off the habit. These include,

• An early speech problems or,
• Early dental problems or,
• A thick callus on their thumb.

By age five or six, you should also consider helping your child to stop the habit. Since it is an emotional comfort to your child, you want to take it easy and be gentle at all times.

• Nagging, punishment, and bribes are not the way to go. You don’t want your child to feel bad, or as if they are doing something bad – emotional distress may just make them want to do it all the more.
• Even as a toddler, your child can understand reason. Explain why it’s better for them to stop, and help them to understand why it’s in their own interests.
• Are there specific times/situations when your child wants to suck their thumb? Removing or dealing with those stresses will help eliminate the behaviour.
• When they want to suck their thumb, think of a favourite song, toy, or book that you can use to distract them.
• Remember – it’s a soothing behaviour, so giving your child emotional support is key.

Your dentist has other solutions to offer if you need help. If you need advice on thumb sucking or any aspect of dental health or dental hygiene, your dentist is the right person to ask. You’ll find the answer at Dr. Robert Axelrad’s Dental Office in Brampton, ON.

If you’re looking for a well-regarded and highly skilled dentist in the Brampton area, make an appointment with Dr. Robert Axelrad by calling (905)-791-3867. Visit our website to learn more about our dental services.

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