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Sucking Habits

It is completely normal and healthy for your baby or young child to suck on a thumb, finger or pacifier. It’s not something you need to be alarmed about or discourage. Sucking is a natural reflex. It’s something your baby did in the womb.

Children usually give up sucking habits on their own by the time they are 4 to 5 years old. If they stop the habit at this age, the shape of the jaw is usually not affected. The teeth should grow in normally. However, some children find the sucking habit hard to break. Children who are still sucking on a pacifier, finger or thumb when their permanent (adult) teeth start to come in are more likely to have bite problems.

Sucking can cause:

  • The top front teeth to slant out 
  • The bottom front teeth to tilt in 
  • The upper and lower jaws to be misaligned
  • The roof of the mouth to be narrower side to side

The amount of distortion caused by sucking depends on how often, how long and how intensely the child sucks. It also is affected by the type of object that the child is sucking on.

To help an older child break a sucking habit, it is important to explain clearly why the habit can be harmful. Be supportive and encouraging, and praise your child’s efforts to end the habit. If the child sucks a finger or pacifier because of a stressful situation, it can be very helpful to address the source of the stress.

When needed, dentists can provide appliances that correct distortions created by the sucking habit and help the child stop the habit.

Here are a few ways parents can encourage their child to quit sucking a finger or thumb.

  • Use positive reinforcement.
  • Track progress by noting every successful day using a sticker or star on a chart.
  • Put an adhesive bandage on the finger as a reminder, or have your child wear a mitten when sleeping.
  • Take the finger out of your child’s mouth after he or she falls asleep.

Pacifier Tips

If your child uses a pacifier, make sure it is always used safely.

Never fasten a pacifier on a string or necklace around your child’s neck. Your child could accidentally be strangled.

Choose a pacifier that:

  • Is one piece rather than several parts
  • Has ventilating holes on the sides
  • Is large enough so that your child can’t swallow it 
  • Is made of a flexible, nontoxic material
  • Has a handle that is easy to grasp

Always check the pacifier before giving it to your child. Make sure there are no rips or tears. If there are, replace it. Never dip a pacifier in honey or any other sweet substance before giving it to your baby. This could lead to serious tooth decay.

If you feel your child needs to see a dentist to examine the teeth or help with breaking the habit, Please call schedule an appointment at one of our dental clinics.