Thumb, Finger, & Pacifier Habits
At Gallatin Valley Pediatric Dentistry, we understand that child dental care can sometimes be confusing. Our job is to help you better understand your child’s oral health and prevent potential problems. In some cases, this involves sucking habits that may jeopardize the development of their teeth.
Thumb, finger, and pacifier-sucking are some of these habits. While completely normal for babies, such habits may create developmental issues as your child grows older. As pediatric specialists, we can provide you with the education you need to navigate this potentially harmful behavior.
How Long Are Thumb, Finger, & Pacifier Habits Acceptable?
Thumb, finger, and pacifier sucking is completely normal for infants. This natural reflex may help relax your child and induce sleep. Some babies and toddlers also use sucking habits as a coping mechanism for anxiety or stress, especially when they are separated from their parents.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you should discourage sucking habits by the time your child is four. Around this age, prolonged sucking could begin to affect your child’s developing teeth and jaw. In severe cases, it can lead to permanent misalignments.
Most children will grow out of this habit with time. If your child excessively sucks their finger, thumb, or pacifier, it may be more difficult to discourage the habit. You will most likely need to intervene in some way.
Possible Effects on Your Child’s Oral Health
By the age of four, sucking habits can cause issues with their permanent teeth, even though they have not yet erupted. By the age of five or six, the pressure and sucking motion may cause the front teeth to jut out, resulting in an open bite. An open bite is characterized by upper and lower teeth that do not touch. To correct an open bite, your child may need extensive orthodontic treatment.
If you fear your child’s sucking habits may affect their oral health, schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. During their appointment, Dr. Justin and Dr. Joni will assess the changes and suggest a possible treatment plan. In rare instances, we may recommend a dental appliance, or crib, to help change their behavior.
The faster you halt the habit, the easier it will be to treat any misalignments. If we stop the behavior early enough, the bite may even correct itself. Be sure to ask questions and voice concerns during your child’s appointment.
Discouraging These Habits
For most children, sucking habits stop naturally without effort or concern. Ignoring the behavior is often the best course of action. Your child will likely learn that it is unacceptable during social situations. If the habit persists, it may be time to actively intervene and discourage the behavior.
Be sure to use positive reinforcement. We recommend praising your child when they attempt to stop. Some patents find it helpful to establish a chart and reward system that tracks their progress. A negative reaction to the sucking habits may cause stress that only perpetuates the behavior.
Schedule an Appointment
If you would like to learn more about your child’s oral health, you have come to the right place! Call 406-224-4272 to schedule an appointment now!