• Dr. Maribel Santos-Cordero, DMD

Paci Vs. Thumb

The Side Effects?

SPONSORED CONTENT - Dentistry for Children and Adolescence

Sucking is a natural and necessary reflex for a baby. Some infants start sucking their thumbs in the womb. Babies need to be able to suck properly in order to be fed. They may also suck on their fingers or a pacifier to find comfort when hungry, tired, bored, scared or wanting to fall asleep. We call this a non-nutritive sucking habit as it is independent of the feeding needs. This urge decreases after 6 months of age but many babies keep the habit until around one year of age.

Thumb or Pacifier?

Does it really matter if your child prefers the thumb over a pacifier? What if they choose none?

Both my boys chose the pacifier - maybe because I was more determined to do it this way.

As a pediatric dentist, my argument was that I could have better control of the habit if it was not permanently attached to my child. Choosing the pacifier also meant suffering through restless nights every time the pacifier got lost or not been able to clean it when it fell on the ground.

After seeing so many of my patients struggle to quit prolonged sucking habits, I now believe that a child that wants to be a thumbsucker will find a way to be one. In the early days, thumbsucking could be advantageous because your baby will have the ability to self-soothe. As your child grows older, not wanting to give up finger or pacifier habits could be a disadvantage to proper growth and development of the face.

A little too much…

As with most habits, a little too much can be harmful. Prolonged or intense sucking habits may change the way your child speaks, eats and breathes. Constant pressure from the finger or a pacifier may reshape the mouth and alter proper growth causing children to suffer from one or more long-lasting negative side effects.

Dental Malocclusion - The most common and visible side effect of these habits is developing an improper bite. When a finger or a pacifier is placed between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, it does not allow the tongue to place the proper natural pressure needed against the palate to create an ideal bite. Children often develop anterior open bites, crossbites and misaligned teeth.

An anterior open bite shows as a space in the front when your child is biting with the back teeth. Children that are very aggressive in their sucking may reshape the palate to be higher and narrower. As a result, the top teeth can’t bite over the lower teeth and the bite goes off to the side into a crossbite. When pressure is placed against the teeth, the upper front teeth can be flared out and the lower front teeth, pushed back.

If you have already noticed these changes in your toddler, chances are that changes may revert the earlier you quit the habit. Older children may have to fix dental and jaw problems in the future with orthodontics and surgery.

Feeding Issues - Some children are often labeled as slow, picky eaters when the problem is that chewing and swallowing with your mouth open, a weak tongue and separated teeth can be a daunting task.

Speech Issues - When the bite is open or the teeth are flared, the tongue tends to stick out. Your child may develop a lisp or other speech impediments. Without dental care to correct this issue, even the best speech pathologist will find it hard to achieve proper speech sounds. Many children with speech impediments find it difficult to communicate and may become frustrated and isolated.

Social Issues - While thumbsucking may be seemed as normal, older children are more likely to become a target of their peers and be self-conscious of their appearance.

It’s a hard habit to break!

As your child gets older, the need to self soothe by sucking on fingers or pacifiers is no longer biologically necessary. Most children are motivated to quit but it may take a lot of love and support to overcome these habits.

Start by finding out what stimulates the behavior before you develop a weaning strategy. Punishing and shaming may increase anxiety and an unconscious desire to suck more. A good dose of praise can go a long way. Finding other ways to self-soothe or keeping your child busy and entertained may be all you need.

Toddlers may not like a pacifier that has been slowly cut shorter. If your child is old enough to understand the concept of exchanging something for a reward, CALL THE PACIFAIRY! The Pacifairy takes the pacifiers away and leaves a present behind.

A Thumbsucking Chart- Reward System may help reinforce positive behavior and give your child an incentive to quit the habit. There are other methods like bitter taste nail polish, taping your child’s finger and a variety of dental appliances.

Every child is different and there is no specific procedure that works for everyone. Identifying potential problems linked to these non-nutritive habits and asking for help early on is the key to helping your child thrive!


Dr. Maribel Santos-Cordero is a board-certified & laser-certified pediatric dentist in Lakewood Ranch dedicated to the oral health of children, adolescents and children with special needs. She believes in helping children achieve their full potential by providing all the necessary tools to guide their growth and development. You can visit www.sarasotachildrendentistry.com or call 941-907-7762 to learn more about her practice or if you suspect your child is suffering from negative side effects of a sucking habit.

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