Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking — What You Need to Know

Jan 25, 2021

Pacifier use and thumb-sucking are self-soothing techniques that many babies rely on to feel a sense of comfort and security. At Stellar Kids Dentistry in Mukilteo, Mill Creek, and Everett, Washington, we understand how torn parents feel about weaning their babies off of pacifiers.

Time and time again, parents are told that prolonged pacifier use is a big no-no. But is that really true? And if so, is thumb-sucking any better? You’d be surprised to learn that both pacifiers and thumb-sucking have their own pros and cons.

At Stellar Kids Dentistry, we always want to make sure we have your family’s best interest in mind. So, before you throw out your baby’s pacifiers, let’s talk about how a pacifier can affect your baby’s oral health and whether it’s a better habit than thumb-sucking.

What are pacifiers used for?

A pacifier is a rubber or silicone device that acts as a nipple substitute. Babies suckle on pacifiers in between feedings to help satisfy their need to suck on objects when they aren’t eating. They typically consist of a flexible, elongated nipple with a shield and small handle.

The primary benefit of a pacifier is that it keeps your little one calm and preoccupied when they might be feeling fussy. 

Are pacifiers good or bad for babies?

A pacifier is a great tool to promote emotional regulation. It keeps your baby content and calm. Pacifiers also help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

This is because babies who use pacifiers don’t sleep as deeply as those who don’t. As a result, babies who use pacifiers can typically be roused from a deep sleep if they’re struggling to breathe.

On the other hand, pacifiers are known to hinder jaw and tooth development in babies. Prolonged pacifier use can have a severe effect on your infant’s oral health, which is why it’s important to curb this habit if it turns into a long-term issue.

How can pacifiers hurt my baby’s oral health?

Pacifiers can cause serious dental problems if they’re used for too long. Some of the most common pacifier problems in babies include:

Protruding teeth (buck teeth)

Buck teeth occur when your baby’s upper front teeth jut outward over their bottom front teeth. While genetics often cause protruding teeth, pacifier use and thumb-sucking can also distort the way your baby’s teeth grow.

Open bite

If your child has an open bite, their teeth may not fully touch when their mouth is closed. Instead, they slightly protrude outward. 


When your child’s upper front teeth visibly overlap their bottom front teeth, they have an overbite. Without treatment, an overbite can lead to jaw pain, tooth damage, and toothaches.

Misshapen roof of mouth

Sucking on a pacifier repeatedly can narrow or distort the shape of the roof of your baby’s mouth.

Pacifiers vs. Thumb-sucking: Which is better?

Thumb-sucking actually causes many of the same dental issues as prolonged pacifier use. However, because you can’t really stop your baby from thumb-sucking — they’re going to put their hands in their mouth no matter what — the habit is much harder to break.

In addition, thumb-sucking can leave your baby’s fingers left with redness, irritation, and even calluses. 

What is the best age to break away from pacifiers?

There’s no specific age that babies should give up their pacifier. In general, it’s completely natural for a baby to rely on pacifiers up to one year old. You should only be concerned if your baby’s pacifier use seems excessive.

Children tend to wean off of pacifiers on their own between ages 2-4. However, many transition into thumb-sucking.

Both pacifiers and thumb-sucking can impact your child’s oral health. If you have any questions about these habits, call Stellar Kids Dentistry or schedule an appointment online today!