Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thumb sucking VS Pacifier? Which is more damaging to a childs teeth?

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Thumb sucking:

Thumb sucking is a behavior found in humans, chimpanzees and other primates. It usually involves placing the thumb into the mouth and rhythmically repeating sucking contact for a prolonged duration. It can also be accomplished with any piece of skin within reach (such as a big toe) and is considered to be soothing and therapeutic for the person.

At birth, a baby will reflexively suck any object placed in its mouth; this is the sucking reflex responsible for breastfeeding. This reflex disappears at about four months of age; thumb sucking is not purely an instinctive behavior and therefore can last much longer. Moreover, ultrasound scans have revealed that thumb sucking can start before birth, as early as 15 weeks from conception; whether this behavior is voluntary or due to random movements of the fetus in the womb is not conclusively known.

Thumb-sucking isn't "bad" for the teeth, but prolonged thumb-sucking may cause problems with your child's dental health, including the proper growth and development of your child's mouth.

Sucking is an infant's natural reflex. Infants and young children suck their thumbs or fingers to help them feel secure and happy, and since it is relaxing, it also helps induce sleep.

Prolonged thumb-sucking can cause "open bites" that require extensive orthodontic treatment to straighten out. It may also make the front teeth protrude, which make the teeth more susceptible to injury.

To help your child stop this habit, it is best to use positive reinforcement, including offering praise for not sucking their thumb. If your child sucks her thumb when she feels insecure, identify the cause of the anxiety and comfort your child.

When you decide it's time to stop thumb-sucking (and it's best to try to break the habit before the permanent teeth come in, usually around age 6), talk to your child and create an action plan to break the habit. Pick a stop-date, use a chart or calendar to track her progress every day, and offer appropriate rewards.

Most thumb-suckers stop gradually by the time they are five years old. Nevertheless, many older children will retain the habit, some into adulthood. Thumb sucking in adults may be due to stereotypic movement disorder, another psychiatric disorder, or simply habit continuation where the adult thumb sucker can avoid the social implications by indulging stealthfully or by ignoring any outside reaction.

Pacifier use:

For fussy babies, a pacifier can calm and soothe. However, dental experts warn that once a child reaches the preschool years, a pacifier can become a habit that impedes the development of healthy teeth.

If a child continues using a pacifier past the age of 3, serious dental malformation can occur, says Al Tonn, DDS, Delta Dental's pediatric dentist consultant. The most common malformation is an open space in the front teeth or an overbite in which the upper teeth protrude.

"Unlike sucking the thumb, using a pacifier is a learned response, so it's a little easier to unlearn the habit," says Dr. Tonn, who has had a pediatric dentistry practice in Manteca for 45 years.

Researchers say that many prolonged pacifier users become prolonged thumb-suckers after the pacifier is taken away, adding to a child's risk of adversely modifying the teeth's natural position.

In addition to moving and shifting teeth, the Academy of General Dentistry reports that pacifier users are more likely to suffer from acute middle ear infections.

At the very least, children who use pacifiers past their toddler years may eventually need braces, and that alone should alert parents to the potential for dental problems and expense.


Both thumb sucking and pacifier use can be damaging to a child's permanent teeth if done for a prolonged period. The trick is for the child to out-grow the "need" to suck. So moms and dads rest assured that the advice given to you to offer your thumb-sucking baby a pacifier to break the habit is not entirely correct. On the other hand moms and dads of those babies who use a pacifier rest assured that as a toddler is alright for child to use a pacifier.

Thumb or pacifier always each families individual choice for their baby.

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