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8:00am–1:00pm & 2:00pm–5:00pm

How to Stop Kids Thumb Sucking or Using a Pacifier

Thumb sucking and pacifier use are soothing for infants – and parents too!  As pediatric dentists, we are not really concerned with thumb sucking or pacifier use in the first 1-2 years of life.  We understand that infants are still trying to learn coping mechanisms and parents need breaks.

After the first year or two of life however, you will hear from your child’s dentist that you will need to break their habits to prevent negative changes to your child’s jaw structure. That’s when we get the question:

“How do I stop my child from thumb sucking or using a pacifier?”

Why it’s important to stop kids thumb sucking or pacifier use

Yes, the suction action and movement from these habits can really mold your child’s jaw.

Impacts the jaw’s shape

When your child produces a suction motion, he or she is actually pulling in their cheeks and applying forces on the upper jaw and teeth.  If the habit is persistent above a certain age they will mold the their jaw and teeth into a more narrow V-shape arch when compared to the naturally wider U-Shape arch that we see in children without these habits.  This can also create something called a “Cross Bite” in which when your child closes down the upper and lower teeth bite out of alignment.

Overlapping front upper and lower teeth

Not only can you change the jaw in that dimension, the front upper and lower teeth will be blocked from growing into the mouth properly.  Normally, the upper and lower incisor teeth overlap but with excessive bad oral habits, this will create a large space called an Anterior Open Bite.  Open bites do not allow the front upper and lower teeth to overlap as they normally would.  Having these teeth overlap is important — without it, you can’t bite off pieces of food. This means your child may struggle to bite into sandwiches and pizza!


Our rule of “Thumb”: If you can stop the thumb/finger sucking or pacifier use by age 3, their jaws will self-correct.

How to stop kids thumb sucking

There are a number of methods used to stop your child from creating an Anterior Open Bite and a V-Shape Jaw.  For thumbs and fingers we recommend a bitter tasting nail polish that is applied morning and night.  The liquid polish is flavorless when just painted on but after it dries there is a strong bitter taste to it.  We tell the kids that it may taste like “Spicy Rubber Tires”.  It is important that you apply this consistently and to all fingernails otherwise this habit breaking tool will not work.  The bitter nail polish designed for this is called Mavala-Stop. We recommend this often at Junior Smiles Children’s Dentistry®.  *Mavala-Stop may be found online.

Ideas to stop pacifiers

For pacifier use, we recommend clipping the tip of the rubber with scissors.  This breaks the suction seal and ultimately prevents the child from feeling soothed by the pacifier.  In time you child will reject the pacifier because it does not provide them comfort any more.

If your child is older (ages 3-4) and refuses to stop using the pacifier, writing a letter to the tooth fairy and placing the pacifier under the pillow for a prize the next morning is very effective.  When the child wants their pacifier back, simply say that he/she already gave it to the tooth fairy for the prize they receive.

For some persistent kids (ages 5 and up), there are some appliances that an orthodontist can give you that can prevent the habit and stop the jaw bone changes in children.

If your child already has significant jaw changes he or she may need braces when they are older.

You Questions

If you have any questions or concerns about stopping kids thumb sucking or pacifier use please see your pediatric dentist for further guidance on what to do.  The doctors at Junior Smiles Children’s Dentistry® are always available for you.  Please call 303-455-3313 for an appointment.


*Note: Jr. Smiles® has no affiliation with the makers of Mavala-Stop.  We only recommend what we believe will help families break these habits.

Written by: Dr. Dylan Bordonaro, DMD

As a dentist at Junior Smiles Children’s Dentistry®, Dr. Dylan enjoys developing friendly and long-lasting relationships with his patients and with their parents.

Categories: Oral Hygiene

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