Help your child avoid extensive orthodontic problems due to thumsucking and pacifier use.
As a parent, the use of a pacifier or thumbsucking (a non-nutritive sucking habit, in psychology terms) are one of the most effective ways to look after a baby and yourself. According to psychology, both activities offer a bubble of comfort, virtually protecting the baby or toddler from stressful events or simply soothing them when they’re bored or sleepy. The scientific literature attributes pacifiers as an effective preventive measure against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, after the age of 6, thumbsucking or using a pacifier is usually indicative of an emotional issue and may lead to teeth misalignment, a.k.a Pacifier Teeth.
What are pacifier teeth and what causes them?
Teeth development starts in the womb and continues throughout childhood. During this phase, anything inserted in a child’s mouth for an extended period of time can impede his or her healthy oral and dental development.
Pacifier teeth are a case of teeth misalignment (malocclusion) that occur after extended use of pacifiers or prolonged thumbsucking.
The continuous action of sucking on an object that disturbs the natural alignment of the teeth is the root cause of this condition.
The intensity of sucking plays a role in determining the severity and quickness of developing pacifier teeth.
Pacifier use and thumbsucking can cause:
- Overbite (buck teeth): When the upper teeth are protruding outward and covering the lower teeth.
- Open bite: When the upper and lower teeth protrude outward without touching each other, leaving a gap in between.
- Speech impediments: When the placement of the tongue is altered due to teeth misalignment.
How can I prevent them?
Preventing pacifier teeth should be on the priority list of parents who are looking out for their children’s oral health. Fortunately, the steps and strategies to prevent this habit from developing are simple.
The majority of kids will ideally break this habit independently when they start exploring their surroundings, socializing with other kids, or when subjected to peer pressure at school.
In case that doesn’t happen, thumb and pacifier sucking should be stopped by the age of 3 according to The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Therefore, it’s best to wean your child from the pacifier at the age of 2 years old.
However, cutting the use of pacifiers around the age of 6 months has its merits since research has found that it reduces the risk of ear infections.
So, what happens when you get rid of the pacifier but your kid sticks to sucking his or her thumb?
First of all, it’s recommended to address the psychological aspect of the situation. The habit is both comforting and relaxing. Kids resort to it to either soothe themselves as they fall asleep or to calm themselves in a stressful situation (i.e., being in a new environment or being away from their parents).
Therefore, you should address their insecurities, correct the roots of their anxiety, and comfort them. Also, use positive reinforcement (rewarding a positive behavior) whenever your kid spends a day thumbsucking-free.
If your child tends to suck his or her thumb to fall asleep, you might want to consider covering the thumb with a band aid or a sock. You can also reach out to your child’s dentist to prescribe a mouth appliance.
If none of the above works, the dentist can prescribe a medicated substance with which you can coat the thumb that’ll prevent the habit.
What to do if your child has developed pacifier teeth
Should your child develop pacifier teeth, your first plan of action is to consult your dentist, who will most likely refer you to a pediatric orthodontist. The latter will be able to answer your questions and help you determine the best course of action to take.
The question of whether pacifier teeth fix themselves or not differs case by case, but it also can depend on when pacifier use was stopped. Detecting the teeth misalignment and addressing it before your child turns 2 years old increases the chances of self-correction in a matter of 6 months. By the age of 4, adult teeth begin to form under baby teeth making orthodontic appliances the only available solution.
Your pediatric orthodontist may suggest one of the following appliances:
- Clear aligners followed by retainers
- Tongue cribs
- Bite blocks
- Vertical pull chin cups
- High-pull headgear
It goes without saying that stopping the habit of thumbsucking or pacifier use is of paramount importance to restrain the aggravation of the condition.