It’s not unusual for children to pick up harmful oral habits at some point. If your child sucks their thumb or a pacifier for too long, their smile can suffer the consequences, but our Children’s Dental Center team is here to help. Breaking the thumb or pacifier-sucking habit can be tough, but you’re not alone. Sometimes, education and simple behavior modification are all you need, but dental or orthodontic work may become necessary. 

Drs. Chris Rowland, J.B. Selecman, Cary Daniel, Melody Greene, and Brent Church will help you and your child navigate this milestone with a personal treatment plan and attentive care from the moment you step into our Germantown, Midtown, Arlington, or East Memphis office. Keep reading to learn how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles and how we can help!

What makes pacifiers and thumb-sucking so bad?

Pacifiers and thumb-sucking are very common habits in young children, and thankfully they don’t always lead to damage to the teeth and mouth. While passively holding the thumb or pacifier in the mouth isn’t anything to worry about, active sucking can damage your child’s baby teeth. In many cases, these issues will resolve when the permanent teeth erupt, but more serious habits can cause damage to the permanent teeth as well. 

The consistent motion of pacifier and thumb-sucking places pressure on the teeth, jaw, and roof of the mouth that can result in serious oral issues, including:

  • Overbite – the front teeth protrude out over the jaw and mouth
  • Open Bite – the top and bottom teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed
  • Change in jaw shape can cause alignment issues or speech problems
  • Sensitivity in the roof of the mouth

If your child’s habit is resolved before the permanent teeth erupt, they likely won’t experience any long-term problems. However, if they continue to suck their thumb, these problems could develop and become more serious. 

How to help your child break the habit

There are a few factors to consider when determining the best method to help your child break their bad habit. The most important is their age. For older children, simply talking to them about the problem can be beneficial. Noticing when and where the behavior occurs is another important aspect of breaking the habit. For example, if your child sucks their thumb as a self-soothing strategy, determine the root cause of that anxiety. If they do it when bored, help them by providing an activity with their hands instead.

Here are some additional ways to help kick this harmful habit!

Habit breaking appliance

Habit-breaking appliances help children eliminate bad habits and ensure a healthy smile. These specialized appliances are either fixed or removable and are placed on the roof of the mouth. They’re minimally invasive and provide a deterrent to pacifiers and thumb-sucking. Since the thumb or paci can’t comfortably apply pressure on the roof of the mouth, the benefits of thumb sucking won’t be present, and your child will eventually stop the habit. 

If a habit appliance is necessary, your child may experience slight discomfort while adjusting. We suggest sticking to a soft diet during this time to avoid any additional discomfort. 

Positive reinforcement

Encouraging your child when they aren’t engaging in pacifier or thumb-sucking can play a large part in their success! Tracking days without thumb-sucking with a fun chart can help your child see their progress and help you keep track, as well. 

Thumb shields/gloves

These are a great way to remind your child not to suck their thumb throughout the day. They’re great for older children during the day when you can’t be there to remind them. You can also have your child wear gloves or mittens at night to prevent them from sucking their thumb while they sleep. 

How Pacifiers & Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids' Smiles

Help your child break bad habits with Children’s Dental Center

While many children outgrow pacifiers and thumb-sucking, that isn’t always the case! Talking to a pediatric dentist can help you and your child understand how to help break bad habits and give their smile the care it deserves. We’ll help you find the best solution for your child based on their unique needs and help you ensure a healthy smile for life!

At Children’s Dental Center, we love helping children create healthy habits. If you’re ready to schedule your child’s dental evaluation, schedule their first visit, and let’s get a head start on their smile!