Pacifiers, Thumb and Finger Sucking

August 22, 2022

Pacifiers, Thumb and Finger Sucking

For many parents there is a love/hate relationship when it comes to pacifiers.  They love them because they provide comfort for their baby and it often helps them stay asleep through the night.  However, some parents dread the day when they get rid of a pacifier, especially if the child is particularly attached to it.  This can make it very difficult to end the use of the pacifier.  I know as a new mom, the pacifier was very helpful when it came to my daughters sleep and for car rides, and I was not excited about getting rid of it.  Fortunately, getting rid of the pacifier was much easier than I thought it was going to be, but we may have just been lucky as first time parents.  Unlike pacifiers, most parents do not like it when their child sucks their thumbs or finger, particularly at an older age.  Babies learn to suck on their fingers and thumbs well before they are born, this is an important part of development for feeding purposes.  Pacifiers can be very useful, but they can also have negative effects on your child’s oral development.  Thumb and finger sucking can have the same negative effects.  While sucking is a natural and normal thing for infants to do, as they get older the sucking can be damaging.

So what kind of damage can sucking fingers, thumbs or pacifiers cause?  Sucking on a pacifier or the thumbs and fingers can cause miss alignment of the teeth as your child’s baby teeth begin to come in.  As your child’s teeth come in, the sucking of a pacifier or thumb can cause teeth to “tip toward the lip,” it can also cause changes to the soft palate (the roof of the mouth).  If these habits occur frequently or over a prolonged amount of time it can cause other damage to the alignment of teeth, or the growth of the jaw.  Because of the physical damage that can occur, some children may experience problems with their speech.  Since pacifier and thumb sucking cause alterations with the teeth and with the tongue, this can make it hard for your child to make sounds and say words.  If those problems are not addressed early it can cause further speech development issues, as your child gets older.

While some children naturally stop sucking their thumbs or fingers, or stop using their pacifiers, there are some children who need encouragement to end the habit.  Dentists would agree that the sooner the habit of sucking on a pacifier or a thumb ends the better; however, it is very common for children to use it well past the age of two.  If this is the case, it is recommended that you try to end the habit before the age of four, because the longer the habit goes on the worse the damage can be.  Like I said before, most dentists would recommend getting rid of the pacifier or ending thumb sucking long before the age of four.  When it came time for my husband and I to get rid of our daughter’s pacifier, her pediatric dentist recommended getting rid of it before the teeth begin to erupt.  By the time we had asked, she already had quite a few teeth, but she had not turned two yet.  There are many different strategies out there to help you with getting rid of the pacifier or even end thumb and finger sucking, and you may need to try a few tactics to find the right one.  I know for some, going cold turkey worked well, while for others it was a disaster.  For my daughter we cut off the tip of the pacifier, and after that she would just hold it in her mouth, and that’s when we got rid of it.  However, if your child is struggling with thumb sucking, and they are older than the age of three, you may need to seek the assistance of your child’s dentist.  If your child is still struggling with thumb sucking, their dentist may recommend a mouth appliance that inhibits these sucking habits.  These mouth appliances are temporary and are usually used if nothing else is working.

If your child is struggling with finger or thumb sucking, or maybe they don’t want to stop using their pacifier, ask their dentist for recommendations, especially if you are concerned.  There are resources out there to help you find solutions to ending these habits, but your child’s dentist will always be able to give you the help you need.


  1. Thumb, Finger, and Pacifier Habits – AAPD
  2. Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use – ADA
  3. Thumb sucking and Pacifier Use – Mouth Healthy
  4. Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers – AAFP
  5. Pacifiers: Are they good for your baby? – Mayo Clinic
  6. An aid to stop thumb sucking: the "Bluegrass" appliance – AAPD

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