We see a lot of parents who are worried about their child’s pacifier or thumb-sucking habit. While these habits aren’t problematic while a child is very young, if they continue past toddlerhood, they can contribute to problems with the alignment of teeth and the development of the palate, which would require correction with orthodontics later. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes pacifier use over thumbs, but all parents know, it can be tough to get a child to switch once the habit is established!
In most cases, kids stop these habits before they can cause a problem. As they get older and are exposed to more children through preschool or daycare programs, “peer pressure” also sometimes takes care of the problem.
But some children do get an extra measure of soothing from a sucking habit and may continue it into Kindergarten and beyond. At this point, behavioral intervention may be needed.
If you are concerned about your child’s habit, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with Dr. John or Ryan Smith at Smith Dental in Hillsboro, OR. We can examine your child’s teeth and discuss your child’s habit with you to determine if an intervention is appropriate.
Behavioral Interventions to Discourage Thumb or Pacifier Use
First off, positive interventions will be far more effective than negative or shaming interventions. With positive interventions, your child will feel like they “own” this change and will confident in their success. Shaming may encourage your child to continue the behavior but become secretive about it. As your child’s dentist, we can talk to your child about why it’s time to stop the behavior, as well.
Many kids suck on a thumb or a pacifier while they are relaxing, perhaps snuggling or watching TV. Try to catch your child doing this activity without sucking on the thumb or pacifier and give them a positive comment. Introduce a chart and place stickers on the chart when you catch them without the thumb or pacifier. Perhaps allow them to turn in these stickers for a larger reward like an extra story before bed.
If you do notice that your child is sucking on a thumb or pacifier, give them a gentle reminder not to do that. Create a special sign or cue that signals them to stop sucking. You could touch the top of the head or create something funny like poking your nose and crossing your eyes.
We don’t recommend bad-tasting varnishes, vinegar, or hot sauce on the thumb. This is punitive and could be painful if your child forgets and rubs their eyes.
If you need extra help, we can discuss special appliances that help to discourage thumb-sucking and pacifier use.
Call for an Appointment
We are happy to treat your entire family here at Smith Dental, and we have skill and experience with all ages and stages of dental development. Give us a call to schedule your child’s next dental appointment.