Pacifier vs the Thumb

Sadly, one of the things moms love to do is judge each other. I’m not sure why we do it, but my hunch says it has something to do with our own insecurities. (And of course, some women are just mean. Perhaps their moms didn’t let them eat lots of candy canes at Christmas or something.) Regardless, the mom tribe is known for having strong opinions on pretty much every subject known to motherhood and we love to stand tall on our soap boxes to share our opinions with others.

paci vs thumbOne such topic is the question of whether to let your child use a pacifier or suck on a thumb to sooth themselves. In the beginning of a child’s life, many parents stay away from pacifiers out of fear of “nipple confusion.” I can attest to the fact that a pacifier can negatively affect nursing. I had issues with two of my three children early on in the nursing days, but thankfully, I was able to find a pacifier that worked and didn’t cause nursing problems going forward. Some parents try to encourage thumb-sucking as soon as the baby can find his or her own hands. You may even have had a loving grandmother who forced the baby’s thumb into his mouth! (True story.) Those who are in favor of thumb-sucking argue (at least in part) that it’s an easy way for a child to self-soothe because they will never lose the thumb in the crib or throw it out of the crib like a baby with a pacifier can.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, I need to be honest with you: I’m a BIG fan of pacifiers (even though I think thumb-sucking is so, so cute.) All three of my children used pacifiers and we actually worked pretty darn hard to get them to take one. I guess since I was “that kid” and sucked my thumb until I was five or six, I didn’t want my kids to have a love affair with their thumbs like I did. Recently, I talked with Dr Dustin Burleson of Burleson Orthodontics about this issue and asked if my concerns were even valid. Does it really matter that much if a kid sucks on a thumb or a paci? I mean, really?

Parents, pediatricians and psychologists have been all over the board on recommendations for thumb-sucking. Some groups say that any non-nutritive sucking is bad for tooth and jaw development. Others advocate a more moderate approach if the sucking habit is a soothing mechanism, especially while falling asleep. Besides the obvious potential health risks when dirty fingers are placed in the mouth, pediatric dentists and orthodontists typically advocate weaning your child from thumb- or finger-sucking by 18-24 months of age. If the habit persists beyond this age, changes in the eruption pattern of teeth can occur.  

Ok, whew. So both camps of people should be pleased to hear that we likely aren’t doing anything that damaging to our kids by letting them suck on a pacifier OR a thumb. I think this should bring us all back together as one big, happy family now, right? ;-)

Well, there is one more thing you should know if you decide to allow your child to suck his/her thumb:

If you are still trying to get your child to stop a thumb-sucking habit after the age of two but before the teeth start to erupt, some of the dental changes are self-correcting after the tongue, lips and cheeks can once again begin to exert their normal forces on the teeth and jaws. By default, if the thumb is in the mouth, the tongue cannot rest properly against the upper teeth and the cheeks can exert more force (even without the sucking force) and cause the upper jaw to narrow. The front teeth can flare, and space between the upper and lower jaws can develop to accommodate the thumb (called an “open bite”).

For a more detailed look at how thumb-sucking affects your child’s mouth, click here.

Now, if you’re wanting tips on how to find a pacifier that won’t damage your child’s mouth and cause future dental problems, Dr. Burleson has this to offer:

There are orthopedically “correct” pacifiers like the NUK brand pacifier that were developed to “promote healthy oral development.”  The two significant benefits of the pacifier are its ability to be cleaned (i.e. avoiding dirty fingers in the mouth) and the fact that children can typically be weaned easier from a pacifier. You can take the pacifier away; it’s harder to take away a thumb. :)

So, after hearing some of the facts about thumb-sucking and pacifier use, what do you think? Are you still in the camp that you came from before you started reading this post? Or, has this post made you think twice about what you are currently doing with your kids? For me personally, I think that every mom needs to do what is best for his/her child. As always, trust your doctor and dentist if you have concerns, but use common sense and do what works best for your kids. You won’t go wrong!

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About Julie

Hello! Kansas City has been our home for the past 3 years and we love it. We moved here after a 2 year stint in Madrid, Spain working for a Christian non-profit. Although I will always have a bad case of wanderlust, I’m a Midwest girl through and through. Educated at Iowa State University as a Spanish teacher, I taught K-6th grade students the joy of learning another language for 2 years. In 2007 I left the world of teaching and became a full time Mama to our first child Renae. Her little brothers Sammy and Colton arrived 2 and 4 years later and between the 3 of them, they keep me busy. I also work for the Skybridge Community which assists American expats as they adjust to and prepare for life in another country. I find great joy in connecting people together, meeting new people, and learning about those that are different from me. Most days you’ll find me spending my mornings at the YMCA where I like to get my Zumba groove on and ending each day watching House Hunters International. I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you great KC Moms!

2 Responses to Pacifier vs the Thumb

  1. erin December 18, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    We didn’t encourage OR discourage either option. Our daughter (now 14 mo) took a paci for a little bit between ages 2-3 months when she was tired but we were careful not to give it to her every time she cried or when she was truly hungry. We found that she didn’t really ever “need” the paci, so we just stopped giving it to her and she didn’t seem to notice. :) She found her thumb/hand between ages 4-6 months (ish) and soothed that way for awhile, but we were still breastfeeding on demand, so that usually took care of her need to suck. She hasn’t done either (paci or thumb) since about 6 months of age.

  2. Becky December 18, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    One reason we chose to use a pacifier early on during nap and sleep was because of the studies that should in could help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

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