How Thumbsucking and Pacifiers Affect Teeth


If there’s one thing all our kiddos have in common, it’s that they like to suck, lick, or bite anything they can get their hands on. This is common during infancy, toddlerhood, and even in early childhood. This is one of many ways that children explore their surroundings and develop oral habits. These curiosities and habits could later help them with chewing and speaking as the muscles are being utilized. While this is a positive thing, have you ever thought about how thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth? The effects might shock you, but they’re important for you to be aware of.

How Thumbsucking and Pacifiers Affect Teeth

Thumbsucking and pacifier use are virtually inevitable. Your child needs to understand the world around them in this manner. However, the negative impacts these can have on a child that prolongs these activities can be gruesome to say the least. The way thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth can not just affect them now but also later in life.

One way these bad habits can be detrimental is by changing the bite of the mouth. The baby or primary teeth may grow in crooked and misaligned. This is why many parents try to get their kids off the binkie and stop their thumbsucking habit by the time their first teeth or few appear. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen when we anticipate it to.

The longer these habits continue, however, the more the baby teeth might be affected. You might be thinking, “Why does it matter if they’re just temporary teeth?” To your surprise, though, what goes on with the primary teeth can certainly affect the secondary (adult) teeth when they erupt.

If you want your baby to grow up having straight teeth, a properly-aligned jaw, and good oral health, part of it starts with caring for their teeth when they’re dependent. Another part of it has to do with teaching them to be responsible when it comes to their oral health and taking them to their biannual dental visits.

Apart from the alignment of the teeth, thumbsucking in particular can potentially make your kiddo sick. It’s true that young children and babies initially build immunity through an activity like this. However, it’s also a great way to catch something from their environment, especially if they’re attending daycare or school and are around several children a day. Nobody wants a sick child, and no child wants to be sick! It’s miserable all around.

Ways to Get Your Child to Stop Thumbsucking and Using Pacifiers

Sometimes it’s easier said than done. However, it certainly isn’t impossible. Even the most stubborn of children can be cut off from the pacifier and stop thumbsucking once and for all.

Some tips for parents to help their child end these activities include the following:

  • Gradually take your child’s pacifier away. Become sterner with time about letting your child have their binkie back. A little tough love is necessary.
  • Have a talk with your child about the purpose of a pacifier and how they don’t need one once they reach a certain age.
  • Tell your child that big boys and girls don’t need a pacifier or thumbsuck. After all, every child wants to appear older than they really are, especially in front of their friends.
  • Keep your child’s hands and busy (e.g., “Carry this for me with both hands, please.”)
  • Engage in a conversation with your child to prevent them from putting something in their mouth.
  • Verbally and gently remind your little one to keep their hands out of their mouth.
  • Inform infants and young children the dangers of sucking their fingers (i.e., germs).
  • Be candid with your child about how thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth, such as how they might develop crooked teeth. (They’ll especially care once they reach an age where peer pressure is common.)
  • Replace your little one’s binkie with another item they can chew or suck such as a popsicle, toy, or teething ring.
  • Provide alternative ways to relieve your child’s anxiousness regarding needing to suck their thumb or pacifier. This might include a backrub, a relaxing song, or a rock in a rocking chair.
  • Threaten to lightly punish your child if they don’t stop sucking their thumb (e.g., no story before bed, 5 minutes less of playtime, etc.).
  • Praise your child’s progress.

Remember: every child is different. Some are quick to cut bad habits such as these. Others may struggle and seem to continue to fall in a downward spiral before improving. You, as a parent, may begin to struggle too. But a little patience on your part could definitely help the both of you. In addition, it’s a good idea to try different ways to get your child to wean off these oral health-damaging activities. Children all respond differently.

Reasons Children May Prolong Thumbsucking & Pacifier Use

In some cases, children may have great difficulty quitting these two bad habits. Kiddos with behavioral problems or issues following directions from authority figures may be especially stubborn.

However, in most cases, there is a deeper, emotional reason for thumbsucking and pacifier use, especially if a child is at an age where they should have already stopped. Many continue to engage in these activities due to underlying anxiety; it’s a means of comfort for them. Call it regression, if you will, but when their oral health is at risk, it’s certainly not healthy. Although, your child won’t see the harm in sucking their fingers of a pacifier during times of doom. In their mind, it’s a healthy habit that helps them.

It’s not uncommon for kids to experience anxiety or nervousness from time to time. But at some point, your little one might require help from a professional to get their anxiety resolved. Sometimes intervention from a parent can be a great help too. All young children need an adequate support system and at least one adult they can confide in when they’re feeling stressed. Directly and indirectly teach your child that putting something in their mouth while they’re anxious, however, is not the way to go when it comes to achieving calamity. They aren’t going to know how thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth unless you let them know that, so get to talking.

How a Dentist May Be Able to Help

Never underestimate how helpful a dental professional may be in your time of need! It’s true that your child’s dentist might be a little stern and strict at times. However, they mean well, especially when it comes to the development of your child’s teeth. They want nothing more than to see strong, healthy smiles. And they know just how important it is for that strong, healthy smile to begin as soon as possible.

If your child is having trouble parting from thumbsucking or pacifier use, sometimes a visit to the dentist might help. While they can’t help your child the way you or a psychologist might, what they can do is speak with your child about why and how to quit these habits. Sometimes it’s not until they hear it from a professional in a white coat that they truly understand, and the idea gets instilled in their head. A dentist may also have some advice for you as the parent to help your kid along the way.

In the event that your child’s teeth are already being affected due to prolonged thumbsucking or pacifier use, perhaps your dentist can show your child x-rays showing them what’s going on. Yes, even children sometimes need cold, hard evidence to be convinced.

Remember that no matter how frustrated you might be through the process, know that thumbsucking and pacifiers affect teeth more than you know. You’re not a monster; you’re doing what’s best for your little one’s oral health.