My child is a thumb (finger, pacifier) sucker!!! What should I do???

One of the most common questions we get from young parents is about navigating the maze of a "sucking habit".  The so called "non-nutritive sucking" is a natural way of comforting themselves for many young ones.  You are one lucky parent if you have a child who does not suck on hands, thumbs, fingers, blankets, shirts, or stuffed animals.  Most of us however are not this lucky and we spend years trying to figure out what to do about it.  So let me put your mind at ease and give your some dental guidelines on when and what do.   But most of all, I want you to know that all these habits will stop at some point.  I don't have any patients who got to high school or college sucking on anything and any dental problems they had self inflicted because of the habit are all fixed by now.  Some naturally go back to what the jaw wants to look like and some need a little help from a friendly orthodontist.  But nevertheless all our patients will eventually have beautiful smiles.All that said, we do want our patients to go through as little trouble because of sucking habits as possible. But each child is very different and so is each family.  So here are the guidelines and you will need to adapt them to your own situation.  My children have been humbling me each and every day of my life and picking your battles is a very tricky game!
These useful little calming devices are many parents' best friends early in life.  They let us sleep a little which is such a luxury! So if your little one likes a pacifier, let them have it and don't stress about it.  There are many different types of pacifiers and just as many articles on which one of them works best.  But in reality, it's not the pacifier that will determine your little ones bite, it's the force of suction which is each child's individual preference.  One advice we have is to use pacifiers for what they are designed.  If you let your little one rely on it all day you will not only create a habit that is hard to stop, but the amount of time your child is sucking on that pacifier will increase the chances of making big changes in the structure of the jaw.  So our advice is to make them a bed only device.  Keep them in the crib or bed and do not allow them at any other times.  Not only is that dentally desirable but also developmentally important as kids must learn how to self calm without relying on external devices.
Quitting time... From a dental stand point pacifiers should be put away around 18-24 months of age.  This gives the young, growing, flexible jaws plenty of time to reshape themselves and cause as little long term damage as possible.  The good news is that parents have complete power over the pacifiers. That's also the bad news.  That puts the ball in our court :). There is no magic bullet on taking away that paci.  It takes parental will power and couple of short, loud and slightly upsetting nights.  But children are amazing and after two to three nights they find a way of soothing themselves without that long term friend.  You can try cutting off the tip of the paci. Your little one is smart enough to know that it is no longer working and will ask for another one.  That's again where your will power comes in.  You can donate the paci to a cause worthy to your child.  This could be a new baby cousin, puppies or kittens or baby princesses. Anything that rocks his or her boat will work.  The most important part however is that parental resolve. We will be happy to support you in the endeavor, but the hard part is making that leap.
This is where real work starts as you cannot take away this handy device!  Kids who want to suck their thumbs will not be tricked with pacifiers so don't worry that you didn't push that pacifier hard enough when they were babies.  We do not advise parents to worry about it  until past the age of three.  We use potty training as a good indicator or readiness. At three years of age we start discussing this habit with both parents and kids.
STEP ONE: between ages of three and four we advise lots of positive encouragement and positive reinforcement with stickers, prizes, example of people and characters they love and respect who do not suck thumbs and promised rewards for quitting.  The goal is to make your child aware of all the wonderful things that can and will happen when they are done with the habit.  Only a small percentage of kids will actually quit at that time, but many will know that they should. If the habit is propelled by a "lovee" of any kind such as a  blanket or stuffed animal, you will have to think about a good time to part with that.  This goes back to parental will power and readiness.  :)
STEP TWO: after four years of age it's time to get a little more serious.  This is the time when some physical barriers such as gloves worn in times most likely leading to sucking (such as during TV time, in the car or during the night time routine) should be engaged.  There is a series of devices sold in kids' stores as well as on the Internet that can help.  But simple bandaids, gloves, or those nasty tasting nail polishes will do the same job for a lot less money.  Of course all of these can be taken off so they must be used in conjunction with all the previous incentives. Your little one must be a willing participant and this work is hard for both them and parents. But don't be discouraged! We are also here to help providing additional prizes, incentives and the wall of fame for all our brave souls who finally quit the habit!  At this point the "lovee" must be gone to achieve any success.
STEP THREE: if your little one is still sucking his or her fingers shortly before the eruption of permanent teeth, well into that 5th year of life, we strongly encourage parents to consider a dental appliance that will assist your little one in getting rid of that  habit.  The appliance is small, fits inside the mouth and causes no pain in fabrication or placement. It's role is not to hurt the fingers or thumbs but to create a permanent barrier that will not allow any suction, which is what causes the satisfaction in sucking those fingers.  Kids do great with that device and it gives us the greatest chance of getting rid of the habit.  We will be happy to show both parents and kids the appliance and discuss its creation.  We advise parents to keep it in for around 6 months to ensure success. index thumb Well... Now that we've given you the good, the bad, and the ugly it's time to figure out where your family is in the scheme of readiness.  We are here to provide you moral and emotional support and to be your cheerleaders!