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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers is a happy, everyday part of life.  Since sucking is a natural, instinctual baby habit, infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a thumb or pacifier as a sucking aid.

According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old.  Thumb sucking can be a harder habit to break and tends to persist for longer without intervention.  Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at high-risk for developing dental complications.

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?

Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious.  Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time.  Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold.  Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guide the developing jaws out of correct alignment.

Tooth decay – Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance.  Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.

Roof narrowing – The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged, repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results.  In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

Mouth sores – Passive sucking is much less harmful than aggressive sucking.  Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.

If you do intend to purchase a pacifier:

  • Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Buy an “orthodontically correct” model.
  • Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid.
  • Rinse with water (as opposed to cleansing with your mouth) to prevent bacterial transmissions.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time.  As children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your pediatric dentist can provide more guidance.  Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

Testimonials.

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Testimonials

If you want to know what I think of Dr. Afzali and her staff all you really need to know is that I live in Portland and I fly to San Diego to see Dr. Afzali for all my dental work. That might seem a bit extreme, and perhaps it is, but hear me out before you decide. A couple of years ago when I was living in the Bay Area I had to have one of my front teeth removed and dental implant inserted in its place by a dentist in the Bay Area. The implant looked a little shorter and darker than my other teeth, and even made my gum above it look a bit darker than the adjacent gum. In short, it didn't look natural. So I wasn't completely satisfied with how my smile looked, but I thought that was the best that could be done. It wasn't.

Last summer while I was in San Diego visiting my parents I went to Dr. Afzali for a routine cleaning. She examined my mouth and immediately asked me whether I was happy with the way my implant looked. When I said I wasn't, she explained that she could make it look better and possibly even indistinguishable from my other teeth. She was right. My implant looks just like my other teeth, and my gum is pink again. In fact, my new implant looks so natural that I sometimes forget it's an implant. I couldn't be happier. One final point. Dr. Afazli's entire staff is great. When I walk in they all make me feel like I'm the most important patient they have. And Julie is particularly great. Because I live in Portland my visits to Dr. Afzali's office had to me perfectly timed with receipt of the various parts necessary for my procedures. Julie made sure that everything arrived when necessary, without fail, so that no flights or appointments had to be rescheduled.

Riley P.

Recently, while on a trip from Canada to visit friends in San Diego, I broke a tooth. I phoned RB Dentistry and was given an appointment without delay. Dr. Mary Afzali was reassuring and professional and did an excellent job fixing the broken tooth. Her dental assistant, Marinette, was kind and gentle and made me feel comfortable throughout the procedure. Julie at Reception was welcoming, warm and made me laugh with her wonderful sense of humour and handled the insurance processing with no complications. Thank you so much Dr. Afzali, Mari and Julie for one of the most pleasant dental appointments I've had in a long time! Hope to see you in Vancouver, B.C. sometime!

Pam C.

I know I am in good hands with Dr. Afzali at RB Family Dentistry. The cavity fillings and tooth root fillings I got there were done so well that when I went to the Southwest College Dental Hygenist school to help out a friend, they could barely even detect the fillings! The teachers there were very impressed. At RB Family Dentistry, the staff and hygenists are friendly, organized and very knowledgable, and the Dr. always gives me as much time as I need and answers all of my questions. The office is beautiful and state-of-the-art. They never try to sell me on additional products or services that I don't need.

Scripps Ranch M

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RB Family & Cosmetic Dentistry
16776 Bernardo Center Dr. #105 San Diego, CA 92128
Phone: (858) 485-0044 URL of Map