Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits

Why do children suck on fingers, pacifiers or objects?
Children suck on things because sucking is one of a baby’s natural instincts. In fact, babies begin to suck on their fingers and thumbs even before they are born. Sucking makes them feel secure and content, and may induce drowsiness.

Are these habits bad for the teeth and jaws?
Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own but some children continue these habits over long periods of time. Prolonged sucking interferes with proper growth of the mouth and alignment of teeth. This improper development, if not corrected, will change the appearance of the child’s face. An open bite often results from thumbsucking or prolonged pacifier use. If the open bite is not corrected early, the child may develop a habit of deviated swallowing and/or anterior tongue thrust (when a child presses against the back of their teeth repeatedly and subconsciously with their tongue). These habits lead to further dental problems and make the correction of the open bite more difficult.

Are pacifiers a safer habit for the teeth than thumbs or fingers?
Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking affect the teeth and jaws in essentially the same way. However, a pacifier habit is often easier to break.

When should children stop sucking their thumbs?
Most children stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. However, some children continue these habits over long periods of time. If you are having trouble breaking your child’s habit, try to:

  • Comfort them if they feel insecure. Sometimes children suck their thumb for a sense of security.
  • Praise your child when they are not sucking their thumb rather than scolding them for thumbsucking.
  • Explain to older children the consequences of thumbsucking to their teeth and jaws, and involve them in choosing the method to break the habit.

If these approaches do not work, our team will be able to recommend ways to change the behavior, including a mouth appliance that interferes with sucking habits.

Information provided by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)