How do Pacifiers, Thumb Sucking, and Bottles Affect My Child’s Smile?

May 15, 2018

Young boy sucking his thumbAs infants, your little ones may use pacifiers and thumb sucking or fall asleep with their bottles to self-soothe. Unfortunately, when these behaviors continue for too long, kids can experience damage to their smiles. For this reason, we typically encourage parents to start weaning kids off of these behaviors around the age of two or three. Every child is different, but around this age, your kids should be able to understand some basic instructions and learn to self-soothe in other ways. If your child continues to self-soothe by sucking on thumbs, pacifiers, or bottles by the time they enter school, it may be time to talk to your children’s dentist or pediatrician about how you can help your child change their behaviors.

Adverse Oral Health Effects

While these self-soothing behaviors begin as your child’s first independent means to calm themselves, when children continue to suck their thumbs, pacifiers, or bottles for too long, it can lead to serious oral health concerns and troubles during dental development. Some of the health issues your child can encounter include:

  • Changes to the shape of the palate (roof of the mouth)
  • Open bite
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Bottle mouth (decay in the front teeth that occurs when the child falls asleep with a bottle)

Helping Your Child Stop Pacifier, Bottle, and thumb Sucking

For most children, removing pacifiers and bottles is easier than stopping thumb and finger sucking behaviors. You can often simply get rid of bottles and pacifiers. For many children, explaining the potentially harmful effects may be enough. To help your child stop or change their self-soothing behaviors to protect their oral health, there are a number of tactics you can try, including the following:

  • First, remind them gently when you see they’re sucking thumbs or fingers
  • Praise children when they remember to stop sucking their thumbs or fingers on their own
  • Provide alternative soothing behaviors like holding a special blanket or toy or singing a song
  • Reward your child with a special treat for an agreed-upon number of days without thumb sucking

Meet Dr. Scotto-Lavino

Skilled Selden family and children’s dentist, Stephen Scotto-Lavino, DDS, offers patients of all ages gentle, attentive dental care to keep patients smiling. If you’re in need of help to get your child to change his or her self-soothing behaviors, we are always happy to help you. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Selden dental office of S. Scotto-Lavino, DDS. We will be happy to partner with you to keep your child’s smile whole and healthy for a lifetime.

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