Let’s Talk Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking with Dr. Krista Kunz of Magnolia Pediatric Dentistry in Mt. Pleasant, SC

Thumb sucking and pacifier use is one of the most common concerns we hear at the office so we thought we’d take some time to put Charleston parents’ minds at ease. Thumb sucking and using a pacifier can be considered normal up to a certain age. It usually goes away by itself as your child matures. Let’s discuss why children suck their thumbs and use pacifiers and when it becomes a cause for concern.

When babies are breast or bottle feeding,their tongue moves forward between the space in their upper and lower jaw as they swallow so that a seal is created with their mouth and milk comes out of the nipple. Thumb sucking and using a pacifier is a way some babies self-soothe because it mimics that movement. It’s a very natural thing to do as an infant. Some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers in the womb! But continued sucking habits after a child reaches school age interferes with normal growth and development of the bone, muscles, teeth, and tongue.

What happens when thumb sucking or pacifier use go on too long? If thumb sucking pr pacifier use go on too long, teeth and jaw development can be impacted. Kids can develop an “open bite” which means that there will be a space between the upper teeth and lower teeth when the jaw is closed. The upper teeth can also be pushed outward when fingers and thumbs are in the mouth past age 3 or 4. The roof of the mouth can also be impacted as the maxilla forms to the shape of the fingers or pacifier being sucked. An orthodontist can correct these problems, but we want to spare our patients lengthy and costly orthodontic treatments when it can be avoided.

When to stop: As with most child related topics, there are a WHOLE lot of opinions on when you should stop using a pacifier and thumb/finger sucking. Generally, kids will stop on their own as they get closer to school age. Some kids persist in sucking when they are no longer breastfeeding or bottle feeding. The ideal time to take a pacifier away from an infant is at 3 months of age. Many children, like my own little guy, will stop on their own. If your kiddo does not stop on their own, Dr. Kunz recommends that you start the process around age three. We want to be sure to emphasize the word START in the previous sentence. This is something that you can take some time with.

How to stop: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends encouraging children to stop sucking habits around the ages of 3-4. Prior to this age, Dr. Kunz encourages parents to let their children self-soothe because they are at a pre-cooperative age and cannot understand what you are asking them to do. If you push too hard, it can often start a cycle of negative reinforcement where the child feels a desire to suck even more. At age 3-4, start slowly by trying to eliminate pacifier use or thumb sucking for certain times during the day. Then increase the amount of time your kiddo is going without. Use gentle reminders if you notice them sucking their thumbs or fingers during the times you’ve designated. Be sure to give lots of praise when you notice your kids aren’t using a pacifier or sucking their fingers/thumb. When it comes time to eliminate the behavior at nap or bedtime, involve your child in choosing a new comfort. Pick out a special stuffed animal, or have a new blanket made for them that is only used at sleep time. If they’re old enough, you can also use a reward chart! We’ve also heard of parents using a “binkie fairy” to make the final leap into no more pacifier use. Kids put their pacifiers in a bag and tie the bag to a tree outside before they go to bed. When they wake up, they’ll find that the binkie fairy left a toy for them in exchange for the pacifiers.

Please remember that every child is different and will mature at different times. We always try to evaluate each child as an individual and base our recommendations specifically for that child’s growth and development physically, emotionally, and psychologically. As always, call us or visit the office if you would like to discuss further! 843-996-6796

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