If you’re the parent of a young child, it’s likely that sucking on a thumb, finger, or pacifier (or a combination of the three) is a consistent part of your child’s “comfort” routine.

If your child is still a toddler, there’s no reason to be concerned about this often subconscious habit, but if your child still sucks his or her fingers or thumbs after permanent teeth start coming in- around the age of 5 or 6- they may be setting the stage for oral and dental problems down the road. Also, the pacifier should be long gone by this age!

When a strong sucking habit continues after permanent teeth have erupted, it can cause changes that affect the structure and alignment of the teeth and jaw, which can lead to increased risk of tooth decay, speech impediments, breathing complications, difficulty biting and chewing, and the need for braces.

To protect your child from the complications of a prolonged sucking habit, wean him early. If your child still uses a pacifier past the age of two, it’s time to say goodbye, and the same goes for thumb/finger-sucking by the age of 4 or 5. While this transition will be difficult for everyone involved (be prepared for many sleepless nights), sticking to your guns is the only way to make this transition a successful one. Once you take the pacifier away and remove the fingers or thumb from your child’s mouth, you have to remain consistent. If your child learns that crying enough will allow her to use this comfort technique, weaning your child completely will be a lost cause. This change will take some getting used to (for everyone), but, in the end, you’re doing what’s best for your child now and later in life.

For more information about children’s and family dentistry, call Dr. Corbet Locke’s dental office in Waco, Texas at (254) 776-4888.