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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers is a happy, everyday part of life.  Since sucking is a natural, instinctual baby habit, infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a thumb or pacifier as a sucking aid.

According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old.  Thumb sucking can be a harder habit to break and tends to persist for longer without intervention.  Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at high-risk for developing dental complications.

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?

Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious.  Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time.  Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold.  Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guide the developing jaws out of correct alignment.

Tooth decay – Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance.  Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.

Roof narrowing – The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged, repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results.  In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

Mouth sores – Passive sucking is much less harmful than aggressive sucking.  Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.

If you do intend to purchase a pacifier:

  • Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Buy an “orthodontically correct” model.
  • Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid.
  • Rinse with water (as opposed to cleansing with your mouth) to prevent bacterial transmissions.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time.  As children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your pediatric dentist can provide more guidance.  Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

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Testimonials

My mother is in a nursing home in Harrisville Michigan. She dropped her dentures and broke a tooth. The entire staff was in her room trying to find the broken tooth, but it must have fallen into the heat register or something. Anyway it never turned up. My brother, Rick, went to visit and called to tell me about it. "We have to do something," he told me. "I can't stand to see mom looking like this." He was planning to take a few days off and take me up north to see about getting her to the dentist to get her plate fixed. I went online and called several dentists in the area. They could not help me with the problem. Then I found Dr. Gregg Resnick DDS in Alpena. He said he could fix them and have them ready by the next day. I had our friends, Shirley and Tom Harmon, pick up the plate and take it to his office. The doctor called me (I live over 200 miles from where my mom is). Dr. Resnick was concerned that he might not be able to grind the tooth properly and that my mom wouldn't be able to chew properly. You see he was under the impression she had a full set of dentures and didn't realize that she had some lower teeth. He told me that although the tooth was broken mom would not have a problem chewing with it that way. "But, we do have a problem," I told him. "My brother can't stand to look at her with that broken tooth." He sighed and said, "Let's do it then." I could have hugged him through the phone. I promised him that if mom had a problem chewing that I would bring her handicap van and get her to his office the next day. Well, mom got her plate today. She ate dinner and said that she could chew just fine. I have Dr. Resnick to thank for this. He did me a favor and it worked out just fine. I wish there were more dentists like him. He and his staff gave me 5 star service.

Sandra C.

My name is Brad Boehm. I am a local physician in Alpena, Michigan. I had an erosion problem with my teeth that made them appear yellow and deformed. I went to see a cosmetic dentist in Atlanta, Georgia. The repair work to my teeth including veneers was over $70,000. I came home very depressed. While at a routine cleaning I discussed this with Dr. Gregg Resnick, my new dentist. He formulated a treatment plan that was identical to the plan from Georgia at less than one-third the cost. I am sure the cost in Georgia included partial rent payment for the mansion the clinic was located in.

I chose to have my teeth fixed by Dr Resnick and I truly could not be happier! During the treatment process minor adjustments were made. This required a quick end of the day visit to see Dr. Resnick instead of a day or two wasted flying to Atlanta. My family and friends comment all the time about my teeth and how I smile so much more. I would recommend Dr. Resnick to anyone who wishes to improve their smile.

Dr. Boehm

I first met Dr. Resnick 20 years ago when referred by a friend for emergency care. Now Nancy and I are thankful he has been our dentist ever since. We think of our appointments as going to an office where we will be treated as friends, not only by him, but also by the staff.

Dr. Resnick is always calm, patient, encouraging and knowledgeable in dental care. His staff reflects his demeanor. Furthermore, he is an interesting guy.

He is always interested in patients as individuals outside of the office. I remember telling him of impending surgery and later he called me at home to encourage and wish me well.

We recommend him to all our friends.

Robert and Nancy Sloan

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