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Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking

For most infants, the sucking of thumbs and pacifiers is a happy, everyday part of life.  Since sucking is a natural, instinctual baby habit, infants derive a sense of comfort, relaxation, and security from using a thumb or pacifier as a sucking aid.

According to research from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the vast majority of children will cease using a pacifier before the age of four years old.  Thumb sucking can be a harder habit to break and tends to persist for longer without intervention.  Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five (and particularly those who continue after permanent teeth begin to emerge) are at high-risk for developing dental complications.

How can thumb sucking and pacifier use damage children’s teeth?

Pacifier and thumb sucking damage can be quite insidious.  Both can be difficult to assess with the naked eye, and both tend to occur over a prolonged period of time.  Below is an overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:

Jaw misalignment – Pacifiers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, most of which are completely unnatural for the mouth to hold.  Over time, pacifiers and thumbs can guide the developing jaws out of correct alignment.

Tooth decay – Many parents attempt to soothe infants by dipping pacifiers in honey, or some other sugary substance.  Oral bacteria feed on sugar and emit harmful acids.  The acids attack tooth enamel and can lead to pediatric tooth decay and childhood caries.

Roof narrowing – The structures in the mouth are extremely pliable during childhood.  Prolonged, repeated exposure to thumb and pacifier sucking actually cause the roof of the mouth to narrow (as if molding around the sucking device).  This can cause later problems with developing teeth.

Slanting teeth – Growing teeth can be caused to slant or protrude by thumb and pacifier sucking, leading to poor esthetic results.  In addition, thumb sucking and pacifier use in later childhood increases the need for extensive orthodontic treatments.

Mouth sores – Passive sucking is much less harmful than aggressive sucking.  Aggressive sucking (popping sounds when the child sucks) may cause sores or ulcers to develop.

If you do intend to purchase a pacifier:

  • Buy a one-piece pacifier to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Buy an “orthodontically correct” model.
  • Do not dip it in honey or any other sugary liquid.
  • Rinse with water (as opposed to cleansing with your mouth) to prevent bacterial transmissions.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time.  As children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves.  When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping.  Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.
  • Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.
  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.
  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, your pediatric dentist can provide more guidance.  Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

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I WISH I COULD GIVE YOU 10 STARS!!!!
Omg!!! SOOOOO happy I found you!!!
I've had these 4 veneers on my front teeth for about 5 years, put on, again, and again and again, after pop offs and cracks and breaks, and several thousands of dollars, by another Santee dentist's office (won't mention who).
After about 4 years of miraculously no problems, I felt a familiar crunch while biting into a fish taco... I was so upset, I just froze staring at this tiny piece of porcelain in my hand. The tears starting welling up as I was reminded of the nightmares I often have of this exact thing happening on a date, or during a job interview... I knew I wouldn't be able to enjoy the rest of my mom's birthday lunch w my daughters, and luckily, I decided to drive myself. I held back the tears, apologized and asked that they wrap up the rest of my meal and I'll see you at home, and ran to my car, wanting to just vomit.... I'm not too vain, am I?
Not just for vanities sake, but the thought of coming up with another 2 grand to fix this, again, was taunting me! My head was spinning. I felt like I had been kicked in the jaw - literally.
First thing I did, after having a few glasses of wine to calm down, was do a search on Yelp. Dr. Fossett was the first to come up -- but still wanted to give my old office a chance, seeing as especially how They WERE THE ONES WHO PUT THE ORIGINALS ON. But, they offered no rest for my weary soul -- no discounts, no deals and no financing. And a replacement will cost @2000!!
I called Dr. Fossetts office next and was enchanted by Robyn, who understood my plight and offered all the help she could; gave me a rough estimate on cost (final cost was LESS than what she quoted!), and applied for Care Credit for me over the phone.
I could go on and on about how my appointment went -- didn't even have to sit or wait, was brought back for a consultation immediately. Not expecting to have everything even started the same day, the assistant and Dr. Dave came back in two minutes and said, let's get started!
Not more than 30 minutes later, I looked in the mirror to the most gorgeous "Temporary" veneer I have ever seen!! I mean, I'd be happy w this for years! The last office would spackle on this horrible looking crap that had no esthetically pleasing value at all!! THIS is a premier job!
And I'm a chronic perfectionist! Especially when it comes to my looks (hair, teeth, ect).
SO IF IM HAPPY, YOU BETTER KNOW THE JOB WAS STELLAR!!!
Thank you Dr. Fossett and staff-- THANK YOU!!!

Vanessa M.

Yesterday was my first visit to this wonderful Dental office. I haven't felt more welcome and comfortable in a Dental facility since I was 19... Now 31 years young. I grew up, going to a father/son dental group and Dr. David and Dr. Douglas Fossett had the same family centered vibe and conservative but smart dental care I've been searching for! As a Registered Nurse, quality care and patient centered care is the core of my own practice. Dr. David and Dr. Douglas exemplify this to a tee! I've finally found my go to family Dental office. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after getting a second option from these very well informed Dentists!

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Great office!!! From the moment I walked in I felt very welcomed by the staff. I'm always nervous when going to the dentist no matter how many times I go, however after my visit to Dr. Fossett's office I felt much more relaxed and at ease. They did everything they could to make me comfortable. I felt the staff was very knowledgeable and answered any questions I had. The assistants are top notch . The smiles , kind hearts and exceptional service will keep me coming back. Thank you to the office for a positive experience.

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