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Thumb Sucking, Pacifier Use and Your Child’s Teeth: We Get the Low Down From our Dental Expert

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
ParentingPost Category - ParentingParenting - Post Category - BabyBaby

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Being a mama is never easy but when your baby is screaming you will do anything to make the noise stop! Usually the easiest way is to stick something in their mouth, either a pacifier, a thumb, toy or blanket. This habit often starts from a young age and when it works, it’s a wonderful way to pacify your little one. However, as your baby grows and they eventually reach school age, if there is still a pacifier or thumb in their mouth, it might be time to curb the habit.

As a dentist, I commonly see young children with an anterior open bite (where the front teeth don’t touch when biting together) and/or a posterior cross-bite (where the back teeth don’t bite together properly) often due to long-term use of the pacifier or thumb sucking. Young children have soft malleable bones, and when there is an object frequently in the way, the bones slowly start to mould around it, creating a gap in their bite. Early intervention is important to try and avoid more difficult correcting procedures when your child is older.

Here are my top tips for curbing the pacifier or thumb sucking habit…

The age of your child

If your child is around 3 I suggest starting to wean them off the habit. It can take up to a year or longer for some children to give up the dummy or stop the thumb sucking and it can be traumatic for both parent and child. Starting early allows you to use a slow and gentle approach. You can always start by minimizing pacifier use during the day and taking the pacifier out once they have fallen asleep. Thumb sucking is harder to stop, but gentle reminders and taking their thumb out at night is a great start. If your child is ready, it won’t take long to stop. However, at this age, there is no need to push them and if it isn’t working, give them a few months break before trying again.

If your child is about 6 and they are still sucking on something, then you definitely need to stop the habit as soon as possible. Pacifier use is much easier to stop compared to thumb sucking. If you are having troubles with stopping the thumb sucking try speaking to other mums who may have gone through a similar situation. They may have some great tips you never thought of before! Also ask your dentist what other options they may have too. If your child is one of those determined types, they may require an appliance or a thumb guard to help them break the habit.

If there are already obvious effects from the habit

Not all children are adversely affected by regular thumb sucking or frequent use of the pacifier. However, regardless of what age your child is, if you can see there is a problem with their bite, then it’s time to seriously consider weaning them off the habit. If you start early enough, the effects may not be permanent and your child may be able to avoid early orthodontic assistance.

It’s a good idea to check how your child bites their teeth together. If you think it doesn’t look ideal, ask your dentist at their next visit to have a look. While it might not be extremely urgent, if there is a discrepancy your dentist can give you the best advice on what to do.

My best tips

Pacifiers

  • If your child is older, you can suggest a trade – that is, they give you all their pacifiers in exchange for a toy they really want. However, you must be firm after this to never buy pacifiers again.
  • Cut down on pacifier use during the day, including nap times, and only use them at night (but always take it away once they fall asleep).

Thumb-sucking

  • Start with gentle reminders and encouragement. Try not to make it such a big issue as this may cause undue stress for your child and actually encourage them to suck more out of comfort.
  • You can try using reward systems to encourage positive behaviour if you see they don’t suck their thumb for a period of time.
  • If they just can’t stop, consider using a thumb-guard – they can be easily purchased online.
  • A special plate made by the dentist which helps remind the child not to put their thumb in their mouth (please consult you dentist for this option)

At the end of the day, do not worry if you are struggling with weaning your little one off their habit. It’s very common and you are definitely not alone! Speak to other mums to find out what worked for them, and if you have any concerns, make an appointment with your dentist or orthodontist.

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amanda bio picDr Amanda Wong works as a general dentist at Orange Orthodontics. She is great with children of all ages and she also sees adults. Amanda is from Adelaide, South Australia and has been in Singapore for four and a half years. Head to their website to read more!

 

 

 

Top image sourced via shutterstock

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