Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use: How It Affects Your Child’s Bite

Child Sleeping while sucking thumb

At some point in your child’s life, it’s likely that they’ve sucked their thumb or used a pacifier as a form of self-soothing. While there’s nothing wrong with this in their earliest years, persistent use of this method past a certain age can result in problems with dental development. Many children will have no issue breaking this habit; some will even abandon it on their own. For others, it can become a pernicious problem that requires help from their dentist, parents, and even a therapist to ultimately break.

Long Term Problems From Thumb-Sucking Or Using a Pacifier

While the ability to suck one’s thumb or using a pacifier to ease stress, calm anxiety, and aid in going to sleep in children cannot be denied, there are risks involved if it goes on too long. Knowing when it’s time to stop your child from using these methods is an important first step in helping them break the habit.

Our patients are often advised to start intervening if their children continue to thumb-suck or use a pacifier past the age of four. If this habit continues, the child will be at risk of developing oral health concerns that require extensive and costly orthodontic treatment to resolve. These issues often take the form of teeth that no longer sit correctly when the jaw is closed, a condition known as malocclusion. Two common forms of malocclusion that result from persistent sucking include:

  • Open Bite – When the teeth do not touch when the child closes their mouth.

  • Overbites – An exaggerated overlap of the upper teeth cover the lower teeth can result when the natural development of the teeth is affected by persistent sucking.

These represent two of the mildest consequences of a child who continues to participate in a sucking habit past the age of four. More severe results can occur, the longer it goes uncontrolled, and the more consistent the child’s habit.

Facial and Jaw Developmental Concerns

The position of the jaw can be impacted by the consistent pressure the presence of the pacifier or thumb causes. Children with an unmitigated sucking habit can develop OMD or orofacial myological disorder. This disorder involves the altering of the natural position of the tongue, lip, or jaw. This often results in the child having problems speaking, clearing, chewing, and swallowing. Extensive treatment is required to correct this in many cases, a potentially expensive prospect.

Misalignment Can Result in Speech Issues

Children who develop misalignment of the teeth and jaw can have issues learning how to speak clearly. This is due, partly, to a common habit of extending the tongue too far out past the teeth, which can cause lisping or difficulty making certain speech sounds. There is also a risk of poor oral dexterity that results from persistent sucking limiting the amount of baby babble these children partake in, a necessary part of lingual development.

If you want to aid your child that may have a difficult time breaking their sucking habit, call Dr. Alireza Movassaghi at Torrance Dental Associates today! Our team of oral health experts is known for helping patients in the Los Angeles, CA, area develop good oral health habits from childhood on!

Alireza Movassaghi, D.D.S and Other Dentist Torrance Dental Associates is proud to be the home of Dr. Alireza Movassaghi, a USC School of Dentistry Graduate with 30 years of experience. His mission is to expand access to dental care throughout the Los Angeles area. When not engaged in providing expert dental care for his patients, he's taking in the latest soccer game and enjoying fine cars.
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