How Can Thumb Sucking & Pacifier Use Affect My Child's Teeth - SAvina dental clinics malta and gozo

Babies love comfort and for this reason, you will find them sucking on a pacifier or their thumbs even when they are not hungry. Parents are sometimes concerned about this habit mostly because it can affect their dental development. We are going to delve into pacifier use and thumb sucking to help you understand how these habits affect your little one’s development.

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Pacifier vs. thumb sucking- Which is better?

Sucking the thumb past the age of four years is harmful to your child’s dental development. However, using a pacifier is not any better.

Attempting to wean off your child’s thumb-sucking habit with a pacifier is much worse. This is because it also has the potential to interfere with your little one’s jaws and teeth development.

Remember, your child can easily drop and pick the pacifier from the ground. Each time it falls, it attracts germs, which end up in their mouth. This is also a problem when sucking thumbs that have not been washed.

The best thing about pacifier use is that you can control it. You could achieve this by allowing your child to use it for a short period and taking it away when need be.

Do pacifiers cause teeth problems?

No matter how much your infant enjoys sucking on the pacifier, the truth is that it can potentially cause teeth problems. According to the American Dental Association, pacifier use can affect a child’s teeth alignment or cause other orthodontic problems.

What are pacifier teeth?

Pacifier tooth is a general term that refers to the problems that arise as a result of overusing a pacifier. These include conditions like misaligned jaws, crooked teeth or protruding front teeth.

Common conditions caused by long-term thumb sucking and pacifier use

Common conditions caused by long-term thumb sucking and pacifier use - savina dental clinics malta

Protruding front teeth

Although genetics can play a role, sometimes your child’s front teeth may protrude because of prolonged pacifier use or thumb sucking. Children who have this problem cannot close their mouths properly. And this makes them more susceptible to speech problems and trauma.

Open bite

Your little one’s teeth should have a proper bite, but prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use may lead to an open bite. This is whereby the teeth fail to overlap when biting. An open bite further leads to speech problems and swallowing issues.


An overbite is where the upper teeth seem to protrude much more than the lower teeth. This type of malocclusion makes it difficult for the patient to chew food properly.


A child’s upper teeth should not fit inside their lower teeth. This is a crossbite. If you don’t address these issues early enough, your child may develop crossbites.

Roof of the mouth sensitivity

When your child spends a lot of time sucking their thumb or a pacifier, they are likely to develop sensitivity on the roof of their mouth. Extended exposure to either of these two can also cause a general misshaping of the child’s palate (roof of the mouth).

How long can a child safely suck their thumb?

Your child may suck their thumb safely until the age of five. Anything beyond that could be harmful, and you will need to step in and stop it.

How to help your child stop thumb sucking

Thumb sucking is a healthy and normal habit in children below the age of five. But when they do it excessively or even past this age bracket, they need help to stop it and steer away from the orthodontic problems that it causes. Here are some tips to help you stop your child’s thumb sucking.

Ask for help from a dentist

Dental experts can explain to your child why thumb sucking over a prolonged period is harmful to their oral health. They can also recommend other solutions, including devices like retainers to help stop the habit.

Use positive reinforcement

Children love positive reinforcement. Discourage your child from sucking their thumb gently and clap for them when they don’t do it. You can also give them rewards when they try to stop sucking their thumbs. This will motivate them to do away with the habit.

Offer reminders

As we said earlier, thumb sucking is not only a natural reflex but also tremendously soothing. This explains why children do it absent-mindedly, all the time.

Even when you tell them to stop, they keep forgetting and putting back their thumb into their mouth. Nonetheless, gentle reminders can help you wean them off thumb sucking. Children forget quickly. As such, you will need to remind them to stop sucking their thumbs many times and patiently.

Try an orthodontic device

Using fixed and removable orthodontic devices could also help stop thumb sucking.  Since there are a variety of devices, you can choose the right one for your child with the help of your dentist.

While some children respond well to such devices, others may not. Therefore, if your child does not like it at all, you can look for other befitting solutions.

Use thumb shields

Using a thumb shield is another effective solution that could help your child stop sucking their thumb. You can find a fabric or plastic thumb shield.

Identify the time when your child loves to suck their thumb and ensure that they have the thumb shields on whenever this time approaches. In case that is not enough, see to it that they wear the thumb shields all the time.

You could also improvise thumb shields. For example, your child will not suck their thumbs with gloves on. You can therefore invest in quality night gloves or even a sock. This is effective, especially if your child sucks their thumb when sleeping. Nevertheless, you should ensure that anything you use for this purpose is safe for your little one.

Children will not always develop orthodontic problems due to pacifier use or thumb sucking. However, it is paramount to watch this habit and try to stop it as they approach four or five years.

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Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.