Dentists field questions regularly about pacifier use, thumb sucking, and other self-soothing toddler habits that can negatively impact a child’s oral health. It’s important for parents to remember that most thumb sucking and other self-soothing behaviors are not damaging, and they may be helping your child to feel safe and secure. The individual development of the child needs to be the determining factor when it comes to decisions about intervening with self-soothing habits, so when it comes to your child’s pacifier use or thumb sucking, there’s no such thing as “normal” or an exact age when it’s time to stop. Your child’s best interest is always our top priority when you visit us for children’s dentistry services. You can watch our video about toddler habits to hear directly from Dr. Jay McCarl about how pacifier usage and thumb sucking can impact kids. Keep reading our blog below for a little more detail.
How Can a Toddler’s Self-Soothing Habits Negatively Impact Their Smile?
Self-soothing habits typically don’t start to cause concern until after the child’s permanent teeth begin to develop. Your little one may have some slight misalignment in their baby teeth, but this generally corrects itself in permanent teeth if the self-soothing habits are stopped early enough. For some kids, especially those who suckle vigorously for extended time periods, more serious concerns like irregularly shaped jaw structures, indentations in the palate (top of the mouth), sensitivity, and soft tissue damage can all occur. If your child’s self-soothing is causing significant harm to their health, you may want to consider helping them make some changes.
When is it Time to Intervene?
If you used pacifiers with your infant, it may be difficult to decide when to take away this comfort object, and if you do take the pacifier away, your toddler may switch to another self-soothing technique like thumb sucking. Most kids stop their self-soothing habits by the age of about four, and those who continue will typically stop after they start attending school. If your school-age child is still reliant on these soothing habits, it may be time to intervene.
When determining whether or not to take steps to redirect your child’s self-soothing habits, we recommend considering the following:
- Does your child aggressively suckle (as opposed to passively holding the pacifier or thumb in mouth)?
- Are your child’s primary teeth coming in crooked or did they develop out of alignment?
- Does your child experience sensitivity on the roof of their mouth?
- Is your child showing signs that their jaw or palate is misshapen?
- Does your child already have permanent teeth coming in?
- Is your child experiencing negative consequences associated with thumb sucking, including poorly developed teeth, dental sensitivity, more frequent illness (possibly due to introduction of bacteria into the system during thumb sucking), or stigma from peers?
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, your child would likely benefit from learning some new ways to self-soothe, but the most important question all parents should ask before they ask their children to give up their pacifier or thumb sucking is – how is your child doing? Basically happy, healthy, and confident children will likely be okay if you work with them to stop self-soothing behavior. If your child is showing signs of anxiety, nervousness, or other behaviors that indicate these self-soothing techniques are benefitting them, you may want to reconsider the optimal time for behavior modification.
Let the McCarl Dental Group Team Help
If you’re struggling to break your toddler out of their pacifier habit or your kindergartener is still thumb sucking daily, our experienced dentists and dental care professionals can help you with personalized tips for your child. During six month dental exams and teeth cleanings, we’ll be happy to answer your questions, provide recommendations, and offer support to help you and your little one keep your smiles healthy. If you want to learn more or schedule an appointment at our dental office in Greenbelt, give our dentistry team a call today.