Most infants and young children find that sucking on a pacifier or thumb can be soothing. Although this is a normal and expected part of childhood development, prolonged pacifier use or thumb-sucking can be problematic for your child's dental health. Most children will break the habit on their own around the time they start preschool, but some kids need direct intervention to put a stop to the sucking. Here's a look at some tips your family dentist may recommend to help kick the habit and protect your child's teeth.

Making the Most of Intervention

It's important that you remember that thumb or pacifier sucking is typically a self-soothing technique or a security blanket for your child. Any negative reinforcement, such as punishments and scolding, will only cause increased anxiety and may actually intensify the problem.

Instead, you'll have to convince the child that he or she is actually ready to break the habit and then let the process happen. If your child feels like it was actually their decision, the whole transition is likely to be more successful. Here are some methods to help encourage success:

  • Limit the Opportunities – Explain to your child that part of becoming a big kid is letting go of the pacifier or not sucking their thumb. Tell them that this means that sucking a thumb or pacifier is no longer appropriate for daytime. Let your child know that, for now, naptimes and bedtimes are still okay. You may need to reinforce this several times before your child gets the idea, but it will slowly wean him or her from the repeated sucking habit.
  • Make it Positive – Provide liberal rewards for time spent without sucking on the pacifier or thumb. Since kids inherently want to please, the more praise you provide, the greater your child's chances will be of success.
  • Seek More Help – For some kids, positive reinforcement and limiting access aren't sufficient. In those situations, you'll need more extensive intervention. Try offering a blanket, small bear or other soothing toy instead. If that doesn't work, your family dentist may be able to offer you an orthodontic device that will help you limit the sucking. The device makes it less comfortable for your child to suck his or her thumb, which will discourage the action.

Whether you're concerned about your child's dental development or you've already exhausted any other ideas to break the sucking habit, the suggestions here may help you succeed. Work with a family dentist, like Chris T. Thomas, DDS, and be supportive of the transition for your child to help break the habit with minimal anxiety or stress.