How the Soothing Habits of Infants and Toddlers Can Affect Developing Mouths

It is totally normal for newborns, infants, or even toddlers to self soothe with a pacifier. While babies are in utero usually between 32 to 36 weeks the sucking reflex develops. This is also known as the rooting reflex. Many times, parents see this exciting action on an ultrasound during the last part of pregnancy

This reflex helps immensely with feeding, whether you are nursing or formula bottle feeding. As newborns grow into infants beginning at 12 months and reaching toddler-hood after age 1, parents all find individual patterns of soothing and calming their child. A pacifier is one way; other ways include finger and thumb sucking.

Why Does My Child Soothe Themselves by Sucking on a Pacifier, Thumb, or Finger?

You may begin to become concerned about your child’s thumb-sucking habits and wonder what negative effects if any, it will have on their oral development. Remember, the action of sucking on a thumb, finger, pacifier, or other object is completely innate and instilled in children while they are still in the womb. However, if not properly remedied, these habits can begin to cause lifelong issues.

Your child is seeking a sense of security and fulfillment when they partake in this behavior, which can make it hard to break the habit once it is formed. You may notice that your child amplifies their sucking habits in situations where they are unsure of their surroundings or are experiencing high levels of anxiety. It is worth noting that since sucking relaxes them, you may notice this habit displaying itself in the evening and other times when they are tired, such as nap time.

The Top Three Negative Consequences of Digit or Thumb Sucking

When your child’s sucking habit continues past 15 months, severe complications due to the pressure that it causes, will arise negatively affecting their bite, tooth alignment, and jaw development. Below we have outlined the top three negative consequences that arise from a sucking habit.

Open Bite

Open bite refers to when the top and bottom front teeth become directed outward, causing the front teeth never to touch, even when your child’s mouth is completely closed.


Following the same criteria of open bite, overbite is when the teeth become directed outward. The difference lies in that only the upper teeth are affected. Your child’s top front teeth will cover their bottom front teeth when the mouth is closed.

Overbite can adversely affect the shape of the face and smile; extensive orthodontic treatment may be needed to resolve

Speech Impediment

The development of the teeth, jaw, and palate can all be adversely affected by non-nutritive sucking habits, which can lead to speech problems. The most common speech problems include lisping and the inability to pronounce hard consonant sounds.

Speech impediments can lead to difficulty communicating effectively, which can lead to high levels of frustration, anger, and feelings of isolation.

Let’s Break the Habit

Most children will stop sucking their thumb on their own between the ages of two and four years old. Typically, during this period, your child is more focused on exploring their surroundings for fulfillment rather than sucking on their thumb, finger, pacifier, blanket, or any other security item.

Peer pressure also plays a huge role in breaking the habit. When children who have already broken the habit or never partook in non-nutritive sucking, see a peer continuing to suck their thumb, finger, or pacifier, they can partake in jeering and teasing their classmate, friend, or peer. While this can be an effective solution, it can be detrimental to your child’s self-esteem. It is important to break the habit as early as possible to combat the negative consequences of peer pressure.

By the age of 4, if your child has not broken their thumb-sucking habit on their own, you should begin to strongly discourage this behavior whenever it arises. If the habit persists, inform your child’s dentist, and they will help encourage your child to stop and explain the consequences of what could happen to their teeth if they continue to suck on their thumb.

Contact Michael J. Leach, D.D.S. Pediatric Dentistry

Give our Alpharetta, GA pediatric dentist office a call today at Michael J. Leach D.D.S. Pediatric Dentistry Phone Number (770) 521-8855 to speak with one of our knowledgeable team members about any questions that you might have regarding your child’s non-nutritive sucking habits. If you are ready to schedule an appointment, fill out our online appointment request form.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Michael J. Leach D.D.S. Pediatric Dentistry family!