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Pacifier or Thumb – What’s a Mother To Do?

Why do babies develop finger and pacifier habits?

Babies have a natural tendency to suckle–blankets, fingers, pacifiers–even in the womb! This is a natural survival instinct since sucking and proper mouth development is essential to baby’s nutrition. While necessary at birth, the natural sucking instinct can develop into long-term finger and pacifier habits.

Should a newborn start on a pacifier?

• Pacifiers will prevent finger habits

• Finger habits are harder to extinguish than pacifiers

• Pacifiers are easier to stop and are more controllable

• Pacifier users usually do not become finger suckers

• Deformed facial bone structure and tooth position

• Pacifiers create a narrow and forward shape, rather than round

• Teeth may stick out and not close together when biting

• Developmental growth begins between birth and the age of 3

• Chin position, dental arch bone shape as well as palate and nose position are determined during this period

Do all children with oral habits develop these problems?

It depends on a combination of several conditions:

• Frequency  how many times per day does the child suck?

• Duration  for how many years does the child suck?

• Intensity  does the child suck with great force or gently?

Do fingers and pacifiers cause teeth to stick out?

• Genetics can cause teeth to stick out

• Excessive use of finger or pacifier may create a bite where front teeth stick out

• Teeth might not close together when biting

Why do so many babies develop these habits?

• Pacifiers and finger sucking result in a peaceful baby

• It is usually accompanied by a blanket or stuffed animal

• It seems to provide calming and comfortable environment for the baby

Is the effect of a finger or pacifier habit permanent

• Forces of these habits can affect shape and position of teeth, jawbone, or facial presentation

• Longer the habit persists, the greater the potential of negative effects

•  Before 3 years old, normal growth will continue at minimal effects

• After 3 years old, effects can be more severe and habit is more established

• Finger or pacifier pushes the roof of the mouth upward (the palate)

• Nose will also be forced to grow up and forward

• This leads to extensive orthodontic treatment

• Orthodontics can adjust the shape of the dental arches and re-align the position of the teeth

• May not be able to change the skeletal changes of the face and position of the nose

What pacifier should I choose for my child?

• One piece construction and should be the right size for your child

• There are pacifiers that are designed to minimize the effects on the mouth

• Discontinue pacifier at 18 months

• Pacifiers do not cause harm–it’s the extended use of them that causes issues!

How do I stop my child from using their pacifier?

• Cold Turkey – make it disappear and support transition

• Gradual Desensitization – slow reduction in use by limiting access per day

• Pleasure Principle Reduction – cut a small hole in the pacifier, this makes it rough and less pleasurable

How do I guarantee success in stopping pacifier use?

Pleasure Principle Reduction Technique:

• First, make all but one pacifier disappear from your house

• Cut a small hole in the rubber part of the pacifier

• Allow your child to continue using the pacifier

• Cut another whole in the pacifier on the next day, and continue this process on to the following day

• Your child will no longer find it pleasurable because it becomes rough and ragged.

• ** Do not discuss process with your child**

How do I stop my child from sucking their thumb?

• We encourage pacifier use so finger sucking habits do not develop

• These habits are much more difficult to alter

• Children stop finger habits around the age of 4, when they begin to socialize with other children

• They realize it is unacceptable and the habit is extinguished

• Positive behavioral change should be attempted only after your child has reached the age where they can understand your explanation

• Stress can be created if you try and explain the issue to your child when they are too young to understand

• Set up a system

• Have your child draw a picture of them sucking their fingeryoung to understand

• Draw a red circle with a line through it to signify to not suck their finger

• Put this picture somewhere that they can see it often

• Start a daily calendar that highlights their success

• Reward them on one day of success, then two days and so forth

• Make it fun and positive and success will be yours!

In some cases, children may need professional assistance. Always see our pediatric dental specialist for guidance and advice. 


What can be done if my child had dental damage from this?

• You may need a dentist to assist in the cessation of these habits, or correct the damage

• Young children are unique and present many special issues and may need professional help, such as a pediatric dentist

• In every case, there is always an answer that will lead to a successful resolution

• Early evaluation and intervention is always best

• The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a childs first visit should be at 12 months so that issues can be addressed


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