Seeing an ultrasound image of a fetus sucking its thumb is amazing. If a patient visits our Placerville office and brings in their infant, dozing away in a stroller while it sucks on a pacifier, it’s simply too adorable for us not to smile and say: “Awwww!” And when you see a toddler sleeping in a crib with either their thumb or a pacifier in their mouth, it inspires feelings of peace and innocent contentment. However, once they start teething, you might wonder if you should encourage one over the other for the sake of their oral health.
Pros and Cons of Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers
Both options have their benefits and drawbacks. For instance, thumbs are low-maintenance, can’t be lost or dropped, and are easier to find in the dark. For pacifiers, recent studies show a possible link to pacifier use and a drop in vulnerability to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). On the other hand, pacifiers are linked to an increased risk of ear infections, and thumbs are more likely to introduce germs from a baby’s constant explorations.
Whatever a parent’s thoughts between the two, which of these two are used by a child is not only up to the mother or father. As the baby’s personality and preferences develop, he or she will likely have a favorite between the two.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The act of sucking on a thumb or pacifier is a natural reflex for infants — after all, many start the habit while still in the womb. The act helps them feel secure and happy, while they become acclimated to their environment. Like a security blanket, however, there comes a time when the habit should fall away as they explore the world around them.
When it comes to their teeth developing, the choice between a thumb or a binky is not as important as the duration of use. Most children naturally phase out of thumb or pacifier sucking between the ages of two and four. Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use beyond that usually affects the alignment of teeth and the growth of the jaw. Even after baby teeth come in, a mouth is still growing. Consistent sucking on a thumb or pacifier influences how the mouth develops, seldom for the better.
Overcoming the Habit
By the age of four, children hopefully lose interest in thumb sucking or pacifier use. If the issue does not go away, they might need some help. Since you have more control over your child’s access to pacifiers, it’s often easier to discourage than thumb sucking. Remember that too much pressure can do more harm than good. Peer pressure from other children, however, often encourages young ones to give up the habit. Therefore, adding excessive parental pressure might have negative effects. Instead, offer praise when you notice they refrain. Since many children prolong thumb sucking because of insecure feelings, try to identify the underlying root of the issue and help them overcome it. And never underestimate positive reinforcement. Reward your child appropriately when they avoid the habit.
Since your child should have their first dental visit by age one, or within six months after their first tooth breaks through the gums, the Placerville Dental Group is happy to help. We monitor your child’s thumb or pacifier sucking with each of their semi-annual dental visits, encouraging them at the appropriate time to let loose of their habit. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s use of a pacifier or thumb sucking, feel free to call us or schedule an appointment online so we can discuss the issue with you.