For many children, nonnutritive sucking is quite common and completely normal for infants and young children. Nonnutritive sucking refers to when babies suck their fingers, thumb, pacifier, toy, or blanket. Oftentimes, these sucking habits provide comfort and security for the young child. In 2000, Nowak and Warren conducted a study and found that fifty percent of children discontinued their oral habits by the time they were twenty-eight months of age. Seventy-one percent of the children discontinued their oral habits by the time they were three, and ninety percent discontinued their oral habits by the time they were four.
Prolonged nonnutritive sucking habits can apply unwanted forces to the teeth and supporting bone structures. These effects are related to the frequency, duration, and intensity of the oral habit. Some dental problems that may arise with extended nonnutritive sucking habits are protruding upper front teeth (aka buck teeth), an openbite when the child bites down, and a narrower upper jaw.
Most of the dental effects are reversible, and they typically are unlikely to have any long-term problems if the habit is eliminated by the age of five (around the time when the permanent teeth begin erupting). Children will typically need help and support from their parents and Pediatric Dentist when trying to stop their habit. Home remedies like the use of a band-aid, sock, or nail polish may help. What we have found works well is positive motivation. When your children are old enough and have the motivation to want to break their oral habits, have them visit their Pediatric Dentist for positive reinforcement, guidance, and encouragement.
Using a chart or habit calendar has been a great way to track the progress of breaking the habit. It serves as a visual reminder and allows your children to be an active participant in their treatment. We look forward to working with you and encouraging your children to maintain their happy healthy smiles!
–Bay Area Pediatric Dental Wellness Group and Team HappyHealthyTeeth
“Guideline on Management of the Developing Dentition and Occlusion in Pediatric Dentistry”American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Council on Clinical Affairs. Recommendations Oral Habits. Reference Manual 2013-2014: 245-46.