How Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking Affect Kids Smiles

Modern pacifiers have existed since 1901, when a pharmacist in Manhatten invented them. Before 1901, people gave their children similar objects to chew on or suck on. Sometimes these objects were made of wood or metal! Thumb-sucking has been around for longer and is still used by many children today. Whether your child uses pacifiers or thumbs, your child benefits from it! However, like with most things, too much of a good thing can cause problems. Keep reading to learn how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles after a certain age.

Do Pacifiers And Thumb-Sucking Serve A Purpose?

Yes, they serve a few practical purposes! 

  • Pacifiers can calm an upset or fussy baby, and thumb-sucking is a way for a child to self-soothe when they are feeling negative emotions. 
  • Both act as distractions during uncomfortable moments, like at the doctor’s office or when feeling overstimulated.
  • Some babies and toddlers have difficulty sleeping without something to suck on. 
  • 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!

For more information about pacifiers and thumb-sucking, ask Dr. Hernandez, Dr. Rios, or Dr. Urrego-Torres! (Note: You should not try to force pacifiers or thumb-sucking on unwilling children. After speaking to a dental professional, you should only try to change their preference.)

Are There Dangers To Them?

Unfortunately, despite all the good they do, they can also harm your child’s mental and physical health, including but not limited to pacifier dependency and an increased risk of an ear infection.

Prolonged use can also damage your child’s developing smile. Your child’s teeth might create abnormal spacing or become crowded together to accommodate the soothing tool. Your child’s jaw growth will also be altered and develop incorrectly from extended pacifier use and thumb sucking. Some other issues include:

  • Hurting 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 can cause 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.

If your child stops using their pacifier later than recommended, you should monitor their bite pattern (how their teeth and jaws align). Common bite pattern problems include:

  • 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)
At Balance Advanced Dentistry & Orthodontics, we are sharing how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles after a certain age.

When Should You Wean Your Child From Pacifiers Or Thumb Sucking?

Luckily your child can maximize the benefits of pacifiers or thumb-sucking without experiencing the adverse effects as long as you carefully supervise the duration of use. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and The American Academy of Family Physicians recommend beginning weaning your child off of pacifier or thumb sucking in their second six months of life and eliminating the habit by 36 months.


Prolonged use can lead to otitis media (ear infections) and can influence the growth of teeth and the development of the jaw. After 12 months, children have an increased risk of an anterior open bite, which means the upper and lower front teeth are angled toward the lips, keeping them from touching when the teeth are clenched. After 36 months, children have an increased risk of an anterior bite (the back teeth touch, but the front do not, though they are not necessarily angled toward the lips). Other bite risks include crossbite patterns, protruding upper front teeth, and overbites. 


We know that encouraging your child to quit something they like in times of distress can be challenging for all parties involved, and figuring out the most effective way to motivate quitting can take some time. But Balanced Advanced Dentistry & Orthodontics wants to help! Whether you try the cold turkey or weaning method, here are a few tips to make the transition smoother!

  • Comfort. Many children find comfort in these habits because it is a way of regulating their emotions, like when they are anxious or uncomfortable. In this case, trying to find the cause and help them work past or learn how to deal with them in other ways can be a great transition that will benefit your child for years to come! 
  • Reward. Giving children a treat for not sucking their thumb or reaching for the pacifier in moments when they usually would is an excellent motivator. They’ll feel rewarded and distracted by their treat.
  • Replace. If your child uses sucking as a way to relax when they are sleepy, offer replacement items instead. Finding one they are willing to stick with might take a few tries, but it will be worth it! You could try stuffed animals or a blanket they could hold. We’ve even seen some parents or guardians speak of a pacifier fairy who rewards them with something if they go to bed without a pacifier. (It helps to tell them that the fairy needs to give the pacifier to a younger kid who needs it more than them because they’re a big kid now!)
  • Cover. Consider covering their thumbs with gloves, bandages, or baby thumb covers. Just ensure they are not choking hazards!
  • Throw The Pacifier Away. For some families, throwing the pacifier away was the way to go. Neither adults nor their children had the temptation to use it if there wasn’t one conveniently nearby! If you can’t throw it away, try not bringing the pacifier with you when you leave the house for extended periods to show your child that everything is okay, even without their pacifier.

Of course, there are other methods you can try, like singing songs or reading books that discourage sucking on pacifiers and thumbs. You could also try distracting activities, like blowing bubbles or making funny faces. There’s no singular way to go about it! You might need just one technique or many! It all depends on your unique child and what works best for them. Different scenarios might call for different approaches! 

At Balance Advanced Dentistry & Orthodontics, we are sharing how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids’ smiles after a certain age.

Protect Your Child’s Smile With Our Balanced Advanced Dentistry & Orthodontic Team!

If you need more ideas or information, please don’t hesitate to contact our office! Our team is always here for you! Our dentists and orthodontist are also here to help you upkeep your child’s oral health and assist in straightening their bites if necessary!
For professional, personalized advice and guidance, schedule an appointment with us! Our mission is to educate all ages about oral healthcare and ensure that maintaining your and your family’s oral well-being is as stress-free as possible.