How Does Thumb-Sucking or Pacifier Use Affect Mouth Shape and Bite?

Aug 9, 2023 | Patient Tips

When your baby is born, they are simply trying to find their way in this world. As they do so, sometimes they are introduced to their thumb to suck or they are given a pacifier to help them “suckle.” Overtime, the child starts to need the pacifier or the thumb to help them cope with everyday life. As a parent, you may start to wonder “how long” you should let your baby or toddler use these coping mechanisms. 

We’re here to tell you that there is no shame in your child resorting to thumbsucking for soothing or using a pacifier for suckling. This resource is here when you’re ready to help your child wean off of one or the other. It’s important to look at both sides of how does thumb-sucking or pacifier use affect mouth shape or bite?

Benefits of Thumbsucking and Pacifiers

Benefits of sucking the thumb and using a pacifier can vary for babies. There are some benefits or else parents wouldn’t use these solutions and pediatricians wouldn’t recommend them. 

Benefits of Thumb Sucking:

  • Self-Soothing: Thumb sucking can provide comfort and help babies self-soothe. It may help them relax, calm down, and feel secure.
  • Promotes Sleep: Sucking the thumb can help babies fall asleep and stay asleep. It may provide a sense of familiarity and relaxation.
  • Oral Stimulation: Thumb sucking provides oral stimulation, which can be satisfying for babies and contribute to their sensory development.

Benefits of Pacifier Use:

  • Satisfies Sucking Reflex: Babies have a natural instinct to suck, and pacifiers can satisfy this reflex, providing them with comfort and relaxation.
  • Eases Discomfort: Pacifiers can help alleviate discomfort caused by teething or ear pressure changes during flights.
  • Easier to Control: Unlike thumb sucking, pacifiers can be easily controlled and eventually weaned off. Parents can gradually reduce pacifier use as the baby grows older.

Always make sure to consult with your pediatrician or dentist for personalized guidance on thumb sucking and pacifier use for your baby.

Is thumb-sucking bad for kids?

Thumb sucking is a common behavior in infants and young children. While it is generally considered normal and even encouraged in early childhood, there can be potential negative effects if the habit persists as the child gets older.

What issues can thumbsucking cause for kids in the long run?

  • Dental Problems – Prolonged thumb sucking can affect the alignment of teeth and the development of the jaw. It may lead to an open bite, crossbite, or other orthodontic issues.
  • Speech Difficulties – Thumb sucking can contribute to speech problems such as lisping or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds.
  • Skin and Nail Issues – Constant exposure to saliva and moisture from thumb sucking can cause skin problems, such as cracking, bleeding, or callous formation on the thumb. It may also affect the shape and growth of the thumbnail.
  • Increased Risk of Infection – The constant presence of the thumb in the mouth can introduce germs and bacteria, increasing the risk of infections.

Tips for Helping Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb or Using a Pacifier

When you start giving your baby a pacifier or you notice they start using their thumb, you don’t really think about the day you will need to help your child stop. As your child gets older, it’s important that you help them eliminate this from their everyday lives, here are some tips to help:

Start at the right time

Wait until your child is developmentally ready to understand and cooperate with the process, typically around 2-4 years old.

Offer alternative

Introduce a comfort item or transitional object like a soft toy or blanket to replace the thumb or pacifier.

Gradual weaning

Gradually reduce the time allowed for thumb sucking or pacifier use, starting with specific situations (e.g., during sleep) and eventually eliminating it altogether.

Positive reinforcement

Praise and reward your child for not sucking their thumb or using a pacifier. Use a sticker chart or small treats as incentives.

Distraction techniques

Engage your child in activities that keep their hands busy and distract them from the habit, such as puzzles, coloring, or playing with toys.

Communicate and explain 

Talk to your child about the reasons to stop thumb sucking or pacifier use, emphasizing the benefits and explaining that they are growing up.

Involve the dentist or pediatrician

Seek guidance from a dental professional or pediatrician who can provide advice tailored to your child’s needs and monitor their dental development.

Create a supportive environment

Ensure a nurturing and comforting environment for your child, as anxiety or stress can sometimes trigger thumb sucking or pacifier use.

Be patient and consistent

Breaking the habit takes time, so be patient and consistent in your approach. Encourage your child and offer support throughout the process.

What tongue issues does thumb sucking or pacifier use cause?

Thumb sucking and pacifier use can potentially cause a range of tongue-related issues. These include tongue thrusting, where the tongue pushes forward against the front teeth during swallowing, leading to dental misalignment. 

Prolonged habits can affect the natural resting position of the tongue, causing it to rest low in the mouth or push against the front teeth. This can impact speech development and result in difficulties pronouncing certain sounds or a lisp. 

Aggressive sucking can narrow the roof of the mouth, affecting tongue movement and leading to issues with speech, swallowing, and breathing.

Now that this is all laid out for you, you can see that thumb-sucking or pacifier use can affect the mouth shape and bite. Most experts would agree that when a child is born, using a pacifier and thumb-sucking and using a pacifier is normal. As the child grows, you should consider taking action to prevent any future issues with the mouth shape or bite. 

If you have questions, you can always give Dr. Topping and his staff a call.