baby looks to mom talking aout thumbsucking vs pacifier

Thumb sucking vs. pacifiers: which is better for your child’s teeth?

As your teething baby happily sucks away on their favorite pacifier, it’s a source of relief for both you as a parent and your baby. But you may start to wonder what effects will the pacifier have on their teeth? Should you start encouraging them to use their thumb as a pacifier instead? Which one is better for their developing teeth? Our Kids Smiles Team is here to help!

Let’s start the great debate on pacifier vs thumb: the best habit for growing smiles.

Is thumb sucking bad?

Thumb sucking is a natural habit for infants and toddlers. In fact, you may have even seen an ultrasound from one of your babies or friend’s babies sucking their thumb in the womb. This is what the Mayo Clinic calls “a natural rooting and sucking reflex”. It’s how babies know to seek substance from breast milk or formula through this instinctual urge to suck. While thumb sucking provides a self-soothing method for your baby too, it eventually becomes a question our Kids Smiles Team is asked a lot during regular dental check-ups…”is thumb sucking bad for their teeth?”

Thumb sucking is only “bad” in the sense of the intensity and duration of your child’s habit. As prolonged and vigorous thumb sucking leads to dental issues such as open bite, cross bite, palate changes, and even gum recession in some rare cases. This is because your child’s thumb sucking puts their jaws in a less than ideal position for proper growth and development and the sucking exerts force on their teeth, causing unhealthy tooth movement.

Is what they say about pacifier teeth true?

Pacifiers have been the “go-to” tools for moms to use for fussy babies for over a 100 years! And with that comes valuable data and studies that show how pacifiers have affected children across generations, including how it affects developing teeth. If you’ve heard the term “pacifier teeth” before, you’re familiar with how kids can develop the same dental issues we mentioned earlier with thumb sucking. While this is true, it’s important to understand the full details behind the cause and the most important factor in all these cases of kids with pacifier teeth is age.

At what age does a pacifier affect teeth?

Children who continue to suck on a pacifier past age 5 are at risk of developing a number of different dental conditions. The same applies to thumb sucking as well!

The main problem with pacifier use and thumb sucking into the childhood years is when the permanent teeth begin to erupt. Continuing these habits while the permanent teeth are emerging can have a significant impact on how they develop.

Thumb vs. pacifier: the bottom line

Thumb sucking and pacifier use can be an important part of your child’s early development, but when it comes to their dental health, using a pacifier can be a gentler option for little teeth. If you find your child favors thumb sucking over a pacifier, that’s ok too! Every child is unique so if you have concerns about their habits, please let us know during your child’s bi-annual dental appointment.

Often where these two habits start posing a threat to your child’s dental health lies in how old they are and their dental maturity (aka if they’re permanent teeth have begun to emerge). With either habit, our pediatric dental experts are here to help and provide treatment (if necessary).

Still have questions about thumb sucking vs pacifier use for kids?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We are your trusted pediatric dental experts in Tampa Bay and East Bradenton, and we’re here to help our patients maintain beautiful, healthy smiles.

Schedule an appointment with our pediatric dentist in South Tampa, North Tampa, Town ‘n’ Country or Bradenton today!