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The Dangers of Thumb, Finger, and Pacifier Sucking

Most pediatric dentists recommend helping children discontinue sucking habits by their first birthday or shortly thereafter. If your toddler or preschooler is still sucking their fingers, using a pacifier, or routinely relying on a sippy cup, there are some serious growth complications that can arise. Here are just a few:

Irregular Bone Growth

The irregular pressure that a thumb or finger places (during sucking) on your child’s mouth will cause unnatural growth patterns in their:

  • Palate (roof of the mouth)
  • Upper arch of teeth
  • Mandible (lower jaw)
  • Occlusion (biting relationship)

Over time, these skeletal differences may become so significant that, if not addressed early, they require surgical intervention later on in life. One of the most common is an “open bite,” where the front of their mouth does not close together all the way.

Speech Delays

Extended sucking changes the shape of your child’s mouth as well as the way their tongue moves. When bones and teeth don’t form properly, it can cause serious speech delays or permanent impediments in your child’s speaking patterns. Even speech therapy may not be completely effective if skeletal patterns are atypical.

Tongue Thrusting

Thumb, finger, and pacifier sucking are especially known to create an irregular swallowing habit known as “tongue thrusting.” This is where the tongue presses forward between the front teeth when your child swallows, instead of in the roof of the mouth and behind the upper front teeth. It’s typically caused by prolonged sucking habits and is quite difficult to “treat” as it’s an instinct that must be learned.

Tongue thrusting tends to cause splayed out front teeth.

Jaw Disorders

By the time the bone growth patterns, tongue, and jaws do not function naturally, it begins to radiate into other areas of the facial anatomy. In this case, your child’s jaws. If they cannot swallow properly or chew correctly, their TMJ will need to accommodate for those unnatural relationships, which can gradually lead to joint pain and headaches.

Increase in Dental Emergencies

Splayed-out front teeth are a common side-effect of sucking habits. Since they jet out further than the rest of the teeth—even sometimes between the lips—they’re more prone to fractures during common bumps or falls.

Orthodontic Needs

Last but not least, pacifier and finger sucking can create major orthodontic problems that would not have otherwise existed. Without early intervention or growth modification, those issues can result in years of orthodontic therapy or potentially even surgeries in an attempt to correct them.

Early Intervention is Key

Working with a pediatric dentist can help you be aware of any unnatural growth patterns or movements in your child’s mouth. If your child is still using a pacifier or sucking their finger(s), it’s time to make a game plan.

A Pediatric Dentist Can Help

Dr. Kyle Raymond and our Austin pediatric dental team are passionate about helping kids enjoy healthy smiles for life. During early development, your child’s oral health will impact their orofacial function and dental wellness for decades to come. For tips on thumb sucking or to schedule a checkup for your child, call Westlake Pediatric Dentistry today.