Understanding Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

Understanding Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

Understanding Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

Is your child a thumb sucker or habitual paci user? How do you know when it’s the right time to break those habits? How do you break those habits in the first place? As a Houston pediatric dentist, we know you’ve got questions and concerns regarding your child’s oral health in this area. Here are a few general guidelines and tips you can apply to this area.

First, know that, for young children, sucking is completely normal. It soothes and calms them, and is no cause for concern. Don’t try to break your child of sucking too early, thinking it’s something negative. If it wasn’t supposed to happen, children wouldn’t be born looking for something to suck on. After a certain age, generally two years and up to four years old or older, it can be a cause for concern. Before that, however, it’s best to let your child comfort herself by sucking, as it’s one of the few ways she has to self-soothe.

If a child continues sucking his thumb or using a pacifier for too long, especially after four years of age, serious, and even permanent, complications can result. These include jaw misalignment, tooth decay, roof narrowing, slanting teeth, and mouth sores. While most of these can be corrected, many require extensive surgery, and services from a Houston pediatric dentist and other specialist; and in the interim can cause considerable pain for your child. So, rather than waiting until this absolute maximum cutoff of four years old, begin weaning your child around two years old, or slightly before, to ensure no damage has time to take place.

To begin weaning him, try to limit the time he self-soothes by sucking on something. Instead, encourage him to sing a song, look at a picture book, or imagine a story. Of course, a special blanket or toy can also help soothe your child, especially at night. Speaking of the night, help your child during his transition by gradually limiting the times he’s allowed to soothe using a paci or his thumb.

For example, you can give her a paci at night to help her fall asleep, and have her give it up when she wakes up in the morning. Or, if your child is a hard sleeper, you could even remove the pacifier from her mouth once she has fallen into a deep sleep. Again, each child is different, so there will certainly be a period of trial and error to find out what will work best for your child.

Another technique that can help is to simply discuss the situation with your child, once they’re old enough. For most children, they won’t even realize that they suck their thumb or are reliant on a pacifier, as it’s something they’ve done literally their entire lives, many even before they were born. When you catch him sucking on something, ask him if he realizes what he’s doing, and gently explain why he shouldn’t be doing it. You could even briefly discuss the possible side effects of continuing his sucking habit to help him realize the consequences of his actions.

If that doesn’t work, another conversation you could have with her is encouraging her to be like a “big kid.” In every child’s life, there is typically an older child they look up to, whether an older sibling, a friend, or a classmate. Set her aspirations and desires on becoming like that older child by giving up her paci and thumb sucking. For some children, this will be all that’s needed. For others, this is simply one technique to use alongside all the others mentioned.

Whatever method you choose, remember to be very patient with your child as she discovers a new way to soothe herself. Remind yourself that this, while frustrating at times for you, is a very big transition in her life that can’t and needn’t be rushed. Giving her a safe environment, and implementing gradual changes will assure your eventual success in getting your child to give up her habit, setting her up for a lifetime of good oral health.

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