How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids’ Smiles

Self-soothing is a natural and necessary part of infancy and early childhood. In fact, humans begin learning to regulate their emotions earlier than you might think! One of the most common ways children learn to calm themselves is through thumb-sucking or pacifier use, and while these work wonders for comforting a crying child (and their tired parents), these oral habits can cause long-term dental problems if used for too long. Keep reading to learn how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles and how Saddle Creek Orthodontics can prevent or correct these issues and give your child the straight smile they deserve. 

Oral Habits & Oral Development 

If you’re a parent, you know that kids grow quickly, and their mouths are no different. During these early life stages, however, the rapid growth needed for proper development can be altered by harmful oral habits. 

Some thumb, finger, lip, or pacifier sucking is normal, but when these habits extend from infancy into early childhood, these sucking patterns can create a vacuum in the mouth. Over time, this consistent pressure pushes upward on the roof of the mouth and inward on the sides, reshaping the jaw structure and causing issues for many young patients as early as 18 months, including: 

  • Open Bites: An open bite occurs when the upper and lower front teeth do not overlap when the mouth is closed. This gap is usually visible when a child smiles or talks and can result from the consistent forward pressure exerted by the thumb or pacifier on the front teeth.
  • Protruding Teeth: Over time, the constant sucking motion from a pacifier or thumb can push the upper front teeth outward, leading to what most people call “buck teeth.” This not only affects the child’s appearance but can also impact bite functionality.
  • Crossbites: A crossbite is characterized by the misalignment of the upper teeth, which sit inside the lower teeth. The uneven pressure from thumb-sucking or pacifier use can distort the natural growth pattern of the jaw, leading to this condition.
  • Speech Issues: The altered positioning of teeth and the jaw can impact a child’s speech development. Issues such as lisping or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds may arise due to the dental changes caused by these habits.
  • Increased Risk of Trauma: Protruding teeth are more exposed and can be at a higher risk of injury, especially in active children. A minor fall or bump can lead to chipped or broken teeth, which can be painful and emotionally disruptive for the child. 
  • Asymmetrical Development: Because of the uneven pressure from these oral habits, the jaw and facial muscles may develop asymmetrically. This can result in one side of the jaw growing differently than the other, leading to facial imbalances. 

How Early Intervention Can Help

Although it can be stressful to think about these potential issues as a parent, the Saddle Creek Orthodontics team is here to help. Dr. Kyle and Dr. John recommend scheduling your child’s first orthodontic visit by age 7 to get the best head start possible, but if you’re already noticing signs of developmental issues from thumb-sucking or pacifier use, it never hurts to come in earlier. 

Here’s what we can do:

  • Regular monitoring: Children’s mouths grow rapidly, which means orthodontic issues can develop rapidly as well. By visiting our office for regular visits, our team can continually assess their dental development and intervene if we notice any issues from harmful oral habits. 
  • Educate: It can be difficult to discourage children from engaging in harmful oral habits that work to self-soothe, and sometimes it’s more effective if it comes from an outsider like their orthodontist. Our team can help your child understand why these oral habits can be bad for their teeth in simple terms and give you tips for helping them quit. 
  • Habit-Breaking Appliances: If your child is struggling to quit sucking their thumb or using a pacifier, Dr. Kyle and Dr. John may opt to use a habit-breaking appliance. These devices fit on the back of the front teeth, similar to a metal retainer, making it difficult for a child to continue the habit and reducing the harmful impact of these behaviors. 
  • Two-Phase Treatment: For children with more extensive orthodontic issues related to harmful oral habits, Dr. Kyle and Dr. John may recommend two-phase orthodontic treatment. By starting with an early round of braces when your child still has baby teeth, we can pave the way for the permanent teeth to grow in straighter before a second round of treatment later in development.

How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids' Smiles

Set Your Child Up for Success at Saddle Creek Orthodontics

Whether we need to give you tips for helping your child quit sucking their thumb or we need to use a habit-breaking appliance, the Saddle Creek Orthodontics team is here to help. No matter what path your child needs to take, however, the first step towards giving them the straight smile they deserve is scheduling their initial consultation at our Germantown or Collierville location. Call our team to get started today!