They can be. It depends on a number of factors including how long these habits continue, how often your child engages in the behavior, and how aggressively your child sucks on their thumbs, fingers, or pacifier.
Both thumbsucking and pacifier use are self-soothing behaviors, and sucking is part of a child's natural instinct. In general, most children discontinue these habits between the ages of 2 and 4. Encouragement from parents and peer pressure from other children will both affect how long your child continues the habit. If these habits go on for too long or if your child sucks on their thumb or pacifier too enthusiastically, you may see changes in the shape of the palate, or their teeth may be forced forward or to the side, resulting in problems like an open bite or cross bite.
Some tips to help you discourage thumb sucking and pacifier use as your child gets older:
- Don't scold your child for engaging in the habit; however, do offer praise when you see him or her not sucking a thumb or pacifier.
- Long-standing thumb or pacifier habits can be related to anxiety. Locating the source of the anxiety and correcting it may put an end to the behavior.
- Offer rewards or create a "star chart" for when your child doesn't engage in the behavior during a difficult time.
If your child has difficulty breaking the habit even with rewards and encouragement, talk to Dr. Dietz. We have other options available to help kids break the habit before permanent damage is done to their teeth.