How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that the use of a pacifier or thumbsucking beyond eighteen months can begin to affect dental health in children? This can be a hard behavior to curb for a lot of parents, but fear not! At Ivy City Pediatrics and Orthodontics, we want to give you important information on how pacifiers and thumbsucking affect kids’ smiles and how to help when it becomes a potentially negative behavior!

Why Kids Do It

These two activities are completely natural and not innately harmful at all—but again, they can start to be over time. Let’s look at why they happen in the first place.

  1. Teething/Oral Stimulation: Sucking on a thumb or pacifier is a method that can soothe the pain of erupting teeth. Infants also need oral stimulation, which can be achieved by either of these actions.
  2. A Natural Reflex: Practically all babies will use their thumbs or fingers to self-soothe, especially in direct response to stress or weariness. It can also serve as an emotional aid when they are anxious.
  3. Sleep Aid: Pacifiers and thumb-sucking help lots of kiddos fall asleep more quickly and remain asleep longer, making it an ideal part of a bedtime routine. 

The Tipping Point

These habits alleviate over time on their own for the majority of children. When they persist, developing baby teeth can begin to be impacted, and when incoming adult teeth are affected around age six or seven, it can become especially serious. This is when an expert like Dr. JC needs to come into the picture if they haven’t already!

Considering the Consequences

It’s important to us that you are aware of how your kids’ dental development can be fundamentally altered by pacifiers and thumb-sucking. Let’s take a closer look at what is at stake:

  • Malocclusion: This is a fancy word for the misalignment of teeth. The supplemental pressure caused by these behaviors can actually manipulate the natural positions of teeth and disrupt patterns of growth. There are a few varieties of malocclusion:
  • Open bites are when the upper and lower front teeth fail to make contact when the child bites down. This results in problems with chewing and speaking.
  • When the upper front teeth overlap the lower front teeth, it’s called an overbite. This can lead to potential jaw misalignment, and the protrusions of the teeth make them more likely to be damaged as a result of direct trauma.
  • The opposite of an overbite is an underbite. It also affects jaw alignment and facial aesthetics.
  • A crossbite occurs when the upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth. This can impact how the upper and lower jaws connect.
  • Protruding Front Teeth: This is one of the more visible side effects of these childhood behaviors. When pressure is exerted on the front teeth, they begin to protrude outward due to suction. 
  • Palatal Narrowing: This is when the upper jaw or palette narrows due to sustained pressure. It can lead specifically to crossbites and cause major trouble when it’s time for adult teeth to arrive. 
  • Speech Impediments: Speech development is another example of an external effect. Lisping or issues with the pronunciation of certain sounds are common and might need to be addressed by a speech therapist.
  • Emotional and Social Impact: If your child attends school, the effects of these behaviors can be mental as well as physical. Self-esteem and social interaction can be affected, as these children might be more vulnerable to bullying, which impacts their confidence as they grow up.

These effects will vary from child to child, and so will the treatment of them. The duration and intensity of their habits, as well as facial and dental development, can contribute to the gravity of the consequences. But the key is always early intervention, if possible; when a parent recognizes patterns of behavior in their child, it’s vital to contact an orthodontic practice like ours to ensure issues don’t worsen.

How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

How We Can Help

  1. Changing Behavior: Dr. JC, a specialist in pediatric dentistry and orthodontics, collaborates with parents to communicate the significance of addressing certain behaviors effectively. Positive reinforcement strategies, such as rewards or praise, can be implemented when these behaviors are successfully curbed.
  2. Tools That Help: Children may be provided with items like thumb guards or bitter nail polish to create a deterrent for their habits.
  3. Monitoring: We help parents during routine check-ups to track a child’s progress, paying particular attention to any signs of relapse or changes in their orthodontic health. Should the need arise, appropriate treatments will be administered.
How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

Breaking the Habit

If your children are struggling with persistent thumb-sucking or pacifier habits, remember that experts like Dr. JC and our team are available to assist—you don’t have to navigate it alone! Feel free to contact us if you’re in the Washington DC area at 202-953-0171.