Thumb Sucking or Pacifiers – What’s a Parent to Do?

Last updated on October 4th, 2017 at 03:20 pm

The most popular argument, in the debate between thumb sucking and pacifiers, is that the pacifier can be taken away if the child seems to be developing a prolonged habit. While this point is valid, some children may develop a prolonged habit of thumb sucking after the pacifier is taken away anyway. Another argument is that the use of orthodontic pacifiers may lessen the chance of dental problems. However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) states that all pacifiers and thumb sucking affect teeth the same way. Some of these issues may include malocclusion and affected speech. Malocclusion is a misalignment of teeth or incorrect relation between the teeth of the two dental arches. Prolonged thumb sucking and pacifiers can cause the front teeth to be pushed out and forward. This position is called an overbite as the child’s jaw is altered from a U to a V shape. Orthodontic treatment is the only way this can be corrected.

Since the new American Academy of Pediatrics SIDS recommendations have found pacifiers offer a “protective effect on the incidence of SIDS”, only offering a pacifier at nap or at night when sleeping is one good way to lessen the chances of it becoming a habit. Keep in mind that thumb/finger sucking is completely normal and that most children give it up by age two. Every child is different and you can’t guarantee whether your child will prefer one over the other. The only “problem” is when the act becomes prolonged.

Some helpful tips to help stop the habit:

1. Distract your child. If thumb sucking is the issue, find an activity that requires the use of both hands. Holding a book at nap time is one option.

2. Develop a game. Use a secret signal that only you and your child know to signal when they have put a thumb or pacifier in their mouth. The act is sometimes done unconsciously and a helpful, fun reminder might do the trick.

3. Use your Pediatrician or Dentist to reinforce the need to stop. Children often see these people as authoritative figures and may be more apt to listen.

4. Make them feel like it’s their idea. “Giving” old pacifiers to the needy or younger babies make them feel proud and helpful.

What about you?  What tips have worked for your little one?

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


One Response to “Thumb Sucking or Pacifiers – What’s a Parent to Do?”

  1. Oussama says:

    Great stuff here. I have a child in great love with her passy and we have gradually cut back when and where she is able to have it. This has been a big step so far. I don’t aposrnelly care if she has it until she is three or three and a half really. Then we will draw the line. I think every child is so different. In Una’s case, I don’t think its so much to plug her but its a huge soother for her, and one that calms her immensely. In the book Mother Daughter Wisdom by Christine Northrup, MD there is a great section on oral needs, and I tend to take her perspective. I know that Una giving up her passy will be hard for all involved ( I love the idea of giving them to the babies, this is so great), and we will eventually get there. But I don’t care if she has it until she gets bigger if it helps her cope and feel secure. Northrup feels that in some cases, a draw the line approach on using pacifiers and bottles can create oral fixations and proneness to addictions like smoking later in life. Again, I think you have to figure it out in relation to what your child needs, and what you sense about your child. Per Una, I feel like it would be a negative to draw that line right now. We ARE ditching the diapers this week however (during the DAY to start). Taking a special trip to buy undies with Mom tomorrow!

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