Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use: How it Affects Your Child’s Bite

Child sucking thumb

Thumb-sucking in children is normal reflex children have; it can calm them down, it can help them sleep easily, and it’s normally seen as a transition from infant to toddlerhood. Thumb sucking and pacifier usually happen around age two and is discontinued around age four. However, if these habits continue beyond this age and show symptoms such as a callous thumb, then it may be time to see your pediatric dentist. There’s the potential harm that can come about when a child vigorously sucks their thumb or pacifier. Here are some of the long-term effects of thumb-sucking and pacifier sucking when its repetitive, aggressive, and consistent.

Orthodontic Concerns of Over-Sucking

If a child is beyond the age of four, aggressively sucking their thumb can risk altering their bite. The constant pressure of the thumb or pacifier can result in multiple bite issues, including:

  • Overbite – Overbites are when the front teeth begin the protrude out of the jaw and mouth, causing the first primary teeth, which come after losing the baby teeth, begin to protrude out of the jaw and mouth.
  • Open Bite – This occurs when the back molars touch, but the front teeth do not overlap over the lower front teeth, causing misalignment and crowded teeth.
  • Jaw Shape – The shape of the jawline as it grows and develops can change, affecting the alignment of the teeth and can cause speech patterns such as a lisp.
  • Root Sensitivity – The roof of the mouth may become sensitive due to the constant pressure of thumb and pacifier sucking.
  • Tongue Issues – Thumb or pacifier sucking can lead to an abnormal tongue rest and functional pattern, which can alter breathing and cause the child to keep their lips open when their mouth is at rest. This tongue rest is shown as resting downward and forward, instead of being pushed at the roof of the mouth.
  • Thumb Calluses – Chronic thumb sucking can lead to skin and cuticle infections when immense amounts of pressure are being exerted.

By the time the first set of permanent teeth come in, these issues would normally resolve. Children who suck longer then they should have an increased risk of these effects.

How to Help Your Child Stop This Habit

Pacifiers will only worsen the habit and create the same potential for tooth damage. Trying to get your child to stop sucking their thumb or pacifier can be grueling, but worthwhile. Whatever method you choose will have the best chance of success. If your child is older, then speaking to your child about their habit can help them stop this habit, especially if they’ve experienced bullying at school. As a parent, by figuring out what the root cause of their habit, you can help address it. Use positive reinforcement, use gentle reminders, and even use thumb shields if necessary. The only way to prevent this habit is to stop it and dis-encourage it from continuing.

At Dr. Alireza Movassaghi’s office at the Alvarado Family Dental Center, our dentists and staff members will be able to give you the best tips and advice on how to care for your child’s dental health when you’re at home. Located in Los Angeles, CA, Dr. Movassaghi will give you and your child proper dental care within an environment you can trust. If interested, call and schedule an appointment with Dr. Movassaghi today!

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