For many years, babies and toddlers were given pacifiers or permitted to suck their thumbs without concern for their dental health. However, in recent years it has become increasingly important to educate parents about the risks of sucking on thumbs, or pacifiers, with regard to oral health.
Why children rely on pacifiers
Many children are weaned off of bottles or breast feeding through the use of pacifiers. There is an oral fixation within most children that is instinctual. There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about relying on a pacifier as this often provides comfort for the baby.
Yet at times, this behavior is allowed to continue long after it is healthy for the baby or toddler. When children are not able to have a pacifier, they may resort to sucking on their thumb, or on some other object.
The effects of pacifiers on teeth
When children suck on their thumbs or use pacifiers for too long, especially when their baby teeth are beginning to grow in, it can impact their dental health. The most significant impact is that they pull the front teeth out of alignment.
When children use pacifiers when they are two years old or older, the more that they take part in this behavior, the more it will affect their teeth. This will generally require some form of dental work as they get older to correct, usually in the form of braces.
Sucking on a thumb can also pose a number of other health risks to the child, especially oral health risks. They could be introducing certain bacteria into their mouth that can be harmful to the gums and they could cause damage to teeth, especially if they have a tendency to suck on hard objects, or to chew them.
Damage to baby teeth will affect adult teeth
It’s a common misconception that not taking care of baby teeth is no big deal because the adult teeth will replace them. However, cavities and other harm to baby teeth could cause those teeth to fall out prematurely, which would force the adult teeth to come in too quickly, before they’ve had time to set and form properly.
If your infant sucks on his or her thumb, or uses pacifiers, try to wean them off this behavior as soon as possible (assuming he or she is over 2 years of age). This will help improve their oral health and give them a great start to a wonderful smile.