It is completely normal for babies and young children to suck on fingers, pacifiers and other objects as a means of self soothing. It provides them a sense of security and is a natural, innate reflex. Some babies even show an affinity for their thumb on early ultrasounds!
Prolonged thumb/finger sucking and pacifier use, can be damaging to oral structures over time. While some children show no affect to their teeth, despite their habits, others will show considerable changes to the shape of the palate and position of the teeth. Damage to your child’s dentition can include open bites, crossbites and tooth protrusion. It is important to review such habits during regular checkups with your pediatric dentist to know when the time has come to begin the weaning process. Certain changes are reversible, while others are irreversible, necessitating a quicker transition from the habit of choice. While thumbs, fingers and pacifiers can affect the teeth and jaws in essentially the same way, a pacifier habit often is easier to break. So, if you have the ability to provide a pacifier to your child in place of their thumb, go for it!
When to stop? The sheer idea of getting rid of a thumb habit or a “binky” is often times much harder for a parent than it is for a child. While we, as parents, worry about sleepless nights and tantrums, more often than not, it goes much better than you would ever imagine! I typically advise parents to lose a pacifier habit before the age of 2, as children are less likely to take the loss of a pacifier as badly. Between the age of 2 and 3, often times, many other transitions are coming into play, such as potty training, new preschools, new siblings, etc. Losing a habit at a time when many other challenges are presenting themselves, is not something we recommend. Instead, wait until the 3rd birthday and begin from there. As for thumb habits, our first goal is to slowly reduce the time the thumb is in the mouth, rather than going cold turkey. We do encourage a child to avoid thumbsucking between age 3 and 4. Ask your dentist for some tips and tricks to make the transition a fun, positive one!
Remember, this is just a phase, and is often one that children will easily outgrow! Encouragement and positive reinforcement are the way to go!
By Dr. Ozzie Jafarnia, DDS. Dr. A. Ozzie Jafarnia, or “Dr. Ozzie” as she is known to her patients grew up in the East Bay, and is proud to be Danville’s only American Board of Pediatric Dentistry certified dentist. She currently works at Danville Pediatric Dentistry located in Blackhawk Plaza Cir, Ste 203, Danville, Ca 94506, (925) 837-7745.