Oral Habits and How They Can Damage Your Child’s Teeth

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Prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking can cause damage to your child’s teeth and jaws.


Long Beach, CA – Pacifiers and thumb sucking soothe an infant’s natural sucking reflex. If these habits continue for too long, however, they can negatively affect jaw growth and development, necessitating orthodontic treatment in the future.


The Academy of General Dentistry acknowledges that pacifier use has benefits for infants. Not only does fulfilling the sucking reflex soothe a baby, some studies indicate that using a pacifier may also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. However, children should put their pacifier habits aside by the age of two, and finger habits by age five to prevent long-term damage to their jaws and teeth.




Up until these ages, any alignment problems that are caused by a pacifier or thumb sucking typically occur in the developing bone and primary dentition (baby teeth) and can correctthemselves on their own if the habit is stopped. The permanent teeth begin to erupt at age 6 with jaw development 90% complete by the age of 12. As a result, any habits that persist past age 5 begin to have a permanent effect on the alignment of the teeth and development of the jaws. Extended pacifier use and thumb/finger sucking can even change the shape of the roof of themouth.


Some of the common issues orthodontists see from allowing oral habits to continue too long include:

  • Protrusion of the upper front teeth, and in some cases, a malformation of the upper jaw
  • Lower bottom teeth that tip inward due to the pressure of the thumb while sucking
  • An anterior open bite (the upper and lower front teeth do not meet) which often takes the
  • shape of the child’s thumb
  • A narrow upper jaw causing a posterior crossbite (top teeth are inside bottom teeth). This
  • is the result of pressure of the cheek muscles during sucking.


At HD Orthodontics, we aim to promote proper development of your child’s teeth and jaws to ensure they have the healthiest bite possible as they grow and mature. Our office is always happy to help you assist your child in stopping their sucking habit, because we understand that it’s often easier said than done.


Oral habits pacifier


For pacifier users, we offer these tips:

  • As the infant grows, start limiting the use of the pacifier. Restrict the use to only bedtime, and then wean your child from use there on.
  • Pierce the top of the pacifier, or cut the tip, to reduce the satisfaction your child gets from sucking on it. This will lead your child to giving it up on his own
  • Use white vinegar or another safe but poor-tasting liquid on the end of the pacifier to discourage your child from using it
  • Offer a reward for giving up the pacifier
  • Leave the pacifier behind on a trip or for the tooth fairy to take
  • Thumb sucking can be a much harder habit to break, because you cannot remove the object the child uses to soothe his or her sucking. The following tips have proven to be most effective:
  • Paint the child’s nails with Mavala Stop– the bad taste will help discourage your child from continuing to suck
  • Wrap an ACE bandage around your child’s hand to prevent sucking at nighttime
  • Have your child wear a Thumb Guard to block thumb sucking
  • Offer rewards for stopping the habit
  • For older children, especially those over the age of seven, talk with them honestly about what the habit can do to their teeth


Parents should utilize ABCs to assist their child in breaking the habit: Action, Belief and positive Consequences. Actions include the child taking responsibility for fingers and thumbs while agreeing to wear an ACE bandage or thumb guard to help quit the habit. The child and parent must believe this is possible and both must agree to daily, weekly and monthly rewards for achieving success.


It is very important to be supportive and offer praise while encouraging your child to stop the
habit, rather than scolding or punishing the child. Children often turn to a pacifier or their thumb when they are scared, anxious or tired. Help your child find other ways to deal with these emotions, and be prepared to offer extra comfort and distraction during the process.


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If the child does not stop their habit using these techniques, there are things an orthodontist can do to assist you. A retainer that fits the roof of the mouth can often stop the habit because it changes the feeling of sucking on the thumb, making it less satisfactory to the child. If your child is a serious thumb sucker, we can also talk about additional orthodontic appliances, such as a thumb crib or attachments bonded to the back of the upper front teeth that will make it uncomfortable for your child to suck on his/her thumb. Read this Article to learn more about orthodontic appliances to prevent thumb sucking.


Ultimately, if a child has not committed to stopping their habit, they will find a way to remove or break any appliance placed until they are willing to quit. Therefore, it is important that there is a mutual goal of both child and parent to quit the thumb habit before resorting to any oral appliances.


If you are concerned about your child’s sucking habit may be affecting his or her teeth, schedule a complimentary consultation with HD Orthodontics today.


About Dr. Heather Desh
Long Beach children orthodontist, Dr. Heather Desh, completed her undergraduate studies at Lehigh University before attending dental school at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated in the top 5 percent of her class and then went on to join the orthodontics program at Temple University School of Dentistry.


Dr. Heather Desh


Dr. Desh is a board certified specialist in both orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, something achieved by only one in three orthodontists. She is committed to providing compassionate, comprehensive orthodontic care to not only children patients but patients of all ages.

Dr. Desh is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists, American Dental Association, American Board of Orthodontics, and California Dental Association, among others.


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  1. 3

    Some great advice here, one thing we’ve seen is that over time some children continue behaviour such as thumb sucking into adulthood as well which shows just how hard a habit it is to kick. Also, it should be noted that many children who have these habits never suffer any adverse effects, it seems to be largely random whether or not it causes problems on a patient by patient basis.

  2. 4
    Daniela Tapia says:

    None of my kids never likes pacifiers nor anything plastic on their mouth. Luckily I never had to deal with none of these bad habits. But with another baby on the way. I’m keeping these tips on hand to make sure my kid doesn’t grow up with these bad habits !!

  3. 5

    I used to have a really bad thumb sucking habit and it ruined my teeth. This is a very valuable source for parents and they should take these problems seriously.

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