How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids’ Smiles

If you’re a parent or guardian, you’ve probably marveled at how quickly your little one can find their thumb or pacifier when they need comfort. It’s like they have a built-in radar! But have you ever wondered why they do this? Or have you perhaps found yourself worrying about whether these habits could affect their developing smile?

Well, you’re in the right place! This blog will explore the why’s of these soothing habits. We’ll look at the good, the not-so-good, and most importantly, what you can do to help your child navigate this phase smoothly. Dr. Foley of Foley Orthodontics has been helping families in Cary for years, so he has plenty of experience on this topic to help you get information and results without frustration.

Why Do Children Use Pacifiers And Suck Their Thumbs?

Ever wondered why your little one is so attached to their pacifier or why their thumb seems to be their best friend? Well, you’re not alone! This is an expected behavior seen in many children, and it’s all part of their natural reflexes.

From the moment they’re born, babies have a strong sucking reflex, which can extend to thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers. This behavior is a source of comfort for them and helps them feel secure and content in their new world. It’s their first way of learning to self-soothe, and it can even help them fall asleep.

Other practical purposes include:

  • Both act as distractions during uncomfortable moments, like at the doctor’s office or when feeling overstimulated.
  • Pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDs in children aged six months to one year.
  • Both can aid in relieving discomfort caused by teething or ear popping on airplanes.
  • And more!

Important: You should not try to force pacifiers or thumb-sucking on unwilling children. Do not try to change their preference without first speaking to a professional, like their pediatrician or dentist.

Dr. Foley of Foley Orthodontics shares information on how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids' smiles to help you get results without frustration.

Could There Be Negative Side Effects To Pacifiers And Thumb Sucking?

These habits are entirely normal in early childhood, and most kids will naturally let go of their pacifier or stop sucking their thumb as they grow older and find new ways to self-soothe and explore the world. However, not every child gives up pacifiers or thumb-sucking on their own, and like with most good things, too much of it can be a bad thing! Let’s look at when these comforting habits might start to impact those adorable smiles.

Prolonged use can damage your child’s developing smile by creating abnormal spacing or crowding in their teeth’s alignment to accommodate the soothing tool. Your child’s jaw is also at risk of undesired effects. If your child stops using their pacifier later than recommended, you should monitor their bite pattern (how their teeth and jaws align) for the following common misalignments:

  • Open bites (front teeth in both rows are angled outward and do not touch)
  • Crossbites (some or all of the upper teeth fit behind or between the lower teeth)
  • Underbites (lower front teeth stick out past upper front teeth)
  • Overbites (upper front teeth exceed the lower teeth past the standard amount)
  • Overjet (upper front teeth are angled toward the mouth)


The unconventional alignments above can create the following problems for your child:


  • Poor Oral Health. Malocclusion caused by pacifiers or thumb-sucking can create complications in your child’s brushing and flossing routine, allowing bacteria and plaque build-up that causes tooth decay, gum disease, and infections. If left untreated, they can have long-lasting or permanent effects on your child’s smile and jawbone — even if they still have all their baby teeth!
  • Speech Impediment. Misalignments in the teeth can give your child that can make it challenging for them to communicate effectively.
  • Jaw Pain. Misaligned jaws can make eating, speaking, and breathing (all essential tasks for a growing child to master) uncomfortable.

How Should You Help Them Quit?

So, you’ve noticed your child’s thumb-sucking or pacifier use lingering longer than you’d like. No need to panic! Here are some gentle, effective strategies to help your child transition from these habits.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Kids respond well to encouragement. Praise them for times when they avoid thumb-sucking or pacifier use, especially during times they’d usually indulge.
  • Identify Triggers: If your child tends to suck their thumb when tired or anxious, try to address the root cause. Offer comfort in other ways, like a hug or a favorite toy.
  • Offer Alternatives: If they’re old enough, try engaging them in activities that use their hands, like drawing or playing with clay. It’s hard to suck a thumb that’s busy creating a masterpiece!
  • Involve Your Child: If your child is old enough, involve them in the decision to stop. Discuss why it’s important and come up with a plan together.
  • Gradual Reduction: Instead of going cold turkey, try limiting the time or places your child can use a pacifier or suck their thumb.

Remember, patience is key. It’s a significant change for your little one, and it’s normal for this process to take some time. 

Dr. Foley of Foley Orthodontics shares information on how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids' smiles to help you get results without frustration.

Visit Foley Orthodontics To Learn If Your Child’s Smile Has Been Affected!

As we navigate the twists and turns of parenting, it’s important to remember that every child is unique. Their journey to let go of their pacifier or thumb might be quick and straightforward or take a little more time and patience. And that’s okay! It’s all part of your child’s journey to a healthy, beautiful smile.

If you have more questions about pacifiers and thumbsucking, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! If you are concerned about your child’s teeth and jaw alignment after prolonged usage of these self-soothing methods, schedule a free consultation with us so Dr. Foley and the Foley Orthodontics team can examine their bite pattern!