Long-Term Pacifier Use, and your baby’s teeth

How long is too long to use a pacifier? And should you be worried if your child sucks their thumb? Sucking is one of the earliest natural reflexes and is normal for infants. Babies frequently place their fingers and toys in their mouths for oral exploration.

Typically, children resort to this infantile reflex of sucking for soothing. Many children use a pacifier or place fingers in their mouths for increased sense of security. Unfamiliar situations such as meeting new people, being separated from parents, or experiencing a new environment may prompt a child’s need for self-assurance.

The American Dental Association (ADA) reported that prolonged thumb sucking or use of pacifier may cause problems with proper growth of mouth and palate and the alignment of teeth. Studies show that “children who sucked on pacifiers or thumbs were twice as likely to have misalignment as those who did not, and they were four times as likely to have an open bite." This was also more prevalent in children still exhibiting these behaviors after the age of two.

If thumb sucking persists after 5 years, it can affect a child’s speech as their permanent teeth emerge. It can alter the articulation of sounds such as /s/, /z/, /t/, /d/, and /l/.

Start thinking about “weaning your child” from the pacifier as soon as possible. By 10-12 months of age, your baby is learning to speak and imitate sounds, words, and the language you use. Speaking through a pacifier may alter the movements of those speech muscles, such as the lips and tongue, and may have an affect their articulation in the future.

Some considerations:

  • Praise and reward your child when they don’t use a pacifier or suck their thumb. Verbal reinforcement or star charts can be a great way to encourage the behavior of not using a pacifier
  • If it’s habit when he/she is bored, keep their hands busy to distract them with other objects
  • If it’s related to anxiety, focus on making your child feel secure and comfortable with hand holding or hugs.