How Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking Affect Kids’ Smiles

Rio Grande Orthodontics is your resource for all things tooth-and-jaw related. And that goes double for our smallest smiles! We’ve got you covered for all your questions about the development of your children’s orthodontic health. We know it can be stressful to wonder what is or isn’t ok for your kids. 

Should I let them suck their thumb? How much is too much? What orthodontic issues can too much thumb-sucking and pacifier use lead to?  

We’ve asked Dr. Gardiner, Dr. Vest, Dr. Klingler, and Dr. Kellam to review the ins and outs of thumb-sucking and pacifiers. It turns out there’s a fair amount to consider! So read on, and you’ll get the info you need! 


Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking – General Info 

First and foremost, it’s crucial to remember that all babies are born with a natural urge to suck, which plays a vital role in their development. This automatic reflex helps them feed, soothes them, and prepares them for sleep, something any new parent can appreciate.

So, keeping that in mind, what role should pacifiers or thumb-sucking play in your child’s 

development? Let’s cover a few fundamental points recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Offer the pacifier only when your baby is not hungry, without replacing or delaying meals.
  • Don’t insist on the pacifier if your baby doesn’t want it.
  • Never attach the pacifier to your child’s crib, neck, or hand, as it can cause severe harm or even death.
  • If your child relies on the pacifier to fall asleep, they may wake up when it falls out. If they are too young to replace it themselves or can’t reach it within the crib, you may need to retrieve it for them.

It’s essential to get rid of the notion that thumb-sucking is inherently wrong or should be discouraged. In reality, there’s no reason to believe that’s the case. Some children simply prefer sucking their thumb over using a pacifier.

When should you wean your child off pacifiers or thumb-sucking? Let’s delve into how much is too much.

The general guideline is between two to four years of age. By the time your child reaches the age of two, it’s advisable to encourage them to rely less on pacifiers or thumb-sucking for self-soothing. Excessive sucking during this stage of their development can potentially affect the shape of their mouth and the alignment of their teeth.

Rio Grande Orthodontics wants you to know just how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids' smiles, so let's dive in! You might be surprised!


However, it’s important not to stress too much about this issue. In most cases, if your child stops sucking before their permanent teeth come in, any orthodontic concerns will likely self-correct. Nonetheless, if excessive sucking persists beyond this stage, it might be necessary to seek the assistance of a professional like the Rio Grande Orthodontic team to address any resulting issues.

How can you help your child transition away from pacifiers and thumb-sucking?

As parents, guiding our children towards healthy habits, including moving away from these habits, is one of our most important responsibilities. While avoiding creating stress or shame around these behaviors is crucial, gently encouraging your child to stop sucking can help prevent potential orthodontic problems. Here are some strategies to support your child’s transition:

  • Slow and gradual weaning: If your child is particularly attached to their pacifier or thumb-sucking, consider implementing a gradual weaning process. Start by limiting the time they spend using them each day, gradually reducing it over time. This approach allows them to adjust at their own pace.
  • Distraction techniques: Whenever you notice your child reaching for their thumb or pacifier, provide alternative activities or toys to keep their hands and mind occupied. Engage them in games, puzzles, or creative activities to redirect their attention away from the habit.
  • Role modeling: Children often mimic the behaviors they observe in their parents and older siblings. Demonstrate how you manage stress or find comfort without relying on oral habits. You can inspire your child to do the same by being a positive role model.
  • Open communication: Have conversations with your child about the importance of growing up and caring for their teeth. Explain how quitting these habits will help them have a strong and beautiful smile. Encourage them to share any concerns or feelings they have about stopping and reassure them that you are there to support them throughout the process.
  • Positive reinforcement: Acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts when they refrain from thumb-sucking or using a pacifier. Offer small rewards or create a progress chart where they can track their achievements. Celebrating their successes can motivate them to continue making positive changes.
  • Consult the experts: If you find that, despite your best efforts, your child continues to rely heavily on sucking habits, it may be worth considering seeking guidance from a professional like our orthodontists. They can provide personalized advice, support, and additional strategies to help your child move forward in their development.


Rio Grande Orthodontics wants you to know just how pacifiers and thumb-sucking affect kids' smiles, so let's dive in! You might be surprised!


Remember that every child is unique, and the process of quitting sucking habits may vary. Patience, understanding, and consistency are always crucial. By incorporating these gentle strategies into your approach and working closely with your child, you can help them easily navigate this perfectly normal stage of their life.