Is Thumb-sucking and Pacifier Use Harmful for Teeth?


All parents want to do what’s best for their child, but how do you know what impact pacifier use can have on your child’s oral development? Millions of children suck their thumb or use a pacifier and it can be a tricky habit to stop.

Fortunately, thumb-sucking and pacifier use doesn’t have to be harmful to teeth. Providing your child doesn’t rely too much on a pacifier or suck their thumb for too long, it’s unlikely to cause any long-term dental issues.

Most children stop using a pacifier by the age of four, which reduces the potential for any subsequent complications. Although it can be more difficult to encourage children to stop sucking their thumb, it is important that the habit’s broken before their permanent teeth begin to emerge.

Of course, if you notice that your child’s bite is beginning to change, their teeth are misaligned or are slanting forwards, it’s important to consult your dentist. Dentistry for children is a fun and reassuring way of introducing them to the dental office environment and it can remove any anxieties they might have about visiting the dentist.

As long-term fears can make it more difficult for patients to access the dental care they deserve, bringing your child to a pediatric dentist from an early age is an important part of their development.

What problems can thumb-sucking and pacifier use cause?

If children use a pacifier or suck their thumb when they’re starting to develop their permanent teeth, it could cause a range of issues, including:

Jaw misalignment

Long-term use of a pacifier or thumb-sucking may cause the jaw to gradually develop in an abnormal way. As a result, your child’s bite may be out of line and subsequent orthodontic treatment may be required in later life.

Tooth decay

Pacifiers and thumb-sucking can introduce bacteria into the mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay. As many parents dip their child’s pacifier in sugary substances to soothe them, acid production is often increased also, and this can erode tooth enamel and lead to decay.

Slanting teeth

Excessive thumb-sucking or pacifier use may result in your child’s teeth slanting forwards or backwards. The pressure of their thumb, or the pacifier, over a long period of time puts pressure on the teeth, which results in abnormal development.

Roof narrowing

The roof of the mouth can be surprisingly pliable at a young age and it may begin to mold around the shape of a pacifier or thumb. This means the roof of the mouth is narrower than usual and may cause issues as teeth develop.

Visiting a pediatric dentist

To find out whether your child’s thumb-sucking or pacifier use is having an impact on their teeth, contact Hines Little Smiles today. As specialists in pediatric dentistry, we’re committed to providing a reassuring, fun and friendly environment for our patients, and we’re on hand to provide all the advice and information you need, too.

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A dentist demonstrates to a child patient a large dental model for educational purposes during a consultation.