Pacifier Habit and Thumbsuckers

The sucking urge provides pleasure and nourishment and is a normal part of infant development.  Because sucking is also comforting, many babies continue to suck long beyond what is nutritionally necessary.  Many babies will satisfy these sucking urges with fingers, thumbs, or pacifiers.


Research suggests there is little or no advantage in using orthodontic pacifiers.  Children using orthodontic pacifiers are more prone to protruding teeth while conventional pacifiers are more likely to develop open bites.  NEVER sweeten the pacifier by putting honey or sugar on the nipple.  This can cause tooth decay.

Thumb/Finger Sucking Habits
These sucking habits are often connected to some other attachment, like fondness for a favorite blanket or toy.  Some other reason s children suck their thumb or fingers include:  boredom, tiredness, nervousness, worry, or stress.  Children find it soothing and it helps them cope with these different situations and emotions.  To call undue attention to these habits at this early stage may do more harm than good.  However, it is important to understand that these habits may become excessive as time goes by.  Three factors used to determine if the habit is excessive are:

  1. Intensity:  How hard the thumb/finger is being sucked.
  2. Frequency: How often this sucking act occurs.
  3. Duration: How many years the habit persists.  If the permanent teeth become affected, there is greater concern.

Most children do outgrow these habits.  Many children will stop due to peer pressure, or even a suggestion to stop by their pediatric dentist.  If your child continues the habit as the permanent incisors (front teeth) erupt, or has stopped the habit but the overbite remains, an appliance may be placed to bot stop the thumbsucking habit and/or retrain the tongue.

We advocate:

  • Offering an incentive, like a star on a chart for not sucking on pacifier or thumb for short periods of time. 
  • Offering a larger incentive when a certain number of stars are achieved or when your child stops this behavior for good.
  • Providing a warm, supportive environment at home.
  • Seeking professional help for any serious emotional problems you may suspect.

We do not advocate:

  • Nagging and scolding
  • Wrapping fingers with bandages
  • Painting a substance on the thumb or pacifier to deter the habit
  • Restricting privileges


Pediatric Dental Center
Warren, MI
Dr. Shah, Dr. O’Riordan