Most experts agree that it’s normal and even healthy for your baby to use a pacifier or suck their thumbs while they’re still infants. In fact, more than three-quarters of infants engage in thumbsucking during the first year of life. They usually do this when they’re bored, tired, or upset. They may also twirl a strand of hair, hold an ear or rub their favorite blanket while sucking a thumb or pacifier. Up until the age of 2, any alignment problems caused by sucking a thumb or pacifier usually corrected within six months after they stop and you and your baby dentist have no cause for concern.
Thankfully, most kids give up these habits on their own as they reach preschool years since the cool kids aren’t doing it (and yes, social pressures start that early). As children move past toddlerhood, it’s far less socially acceptable to resort to “baby things.” Even still, one in five children will still be sucking his thumb past his 5th birthday, and that’s when problems (both social and dental) can start developing.
This is also the age when permanent teeth start coming in, and sucking could cause them to develop an abnormal bite. Your pediatric dentist will be able to tell if your child has an issue with thumbsucking that can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, tooth alignment and the shape of the roof of his mouth.
As a general rule of thumb (no pun intended), pacifier use should stop at about age 2, and if your child is still thumbsucking around the age of 5, then it’s time to think about what you can do to help him. Attempts to steer a child away from thumb-sucking can backfire if they are not tempered with support and guidance. Don’t nag or reprimand your child, and don’t pull a child’s finger out of his mouth. Most children really want to stop, but just need a little extra help. Talk to your Phoenix children’s dentist about ideas on how to help him kick the habit.