DentalCare Logo

Smiles For Tomorrow

Course Number: 4

Nonnutritive Sucking Habits

Habits such as finger or thumb sucking and pacifier use are a normal part of neonatal development. Digit sucking habits are thought to arise from the rooting reflex. Nonnutritive sucking habits are a source of comfort to most infants.

The rooting reflex will start to dissipate at 7 months of age; the sucking reflex will be replaced with other feeding skills by 12 months of age.


Nonnutritive Sucking Habits

Spontaneous abandonment of oral habits usually occurs between 2 and 4 years of age. Changes in the primary dentition can occur when nonnutritive sucking continues, depending on the intensity, frequency, and duration of the habit. If unaddressed, continuing habits can affect the permanent dentition.


Changes in Dentition Due to Nonnutritive Sucking Habits


In children age 3 years old and older, nonnutritive oral habits are no longer considered normal and may be viewed in some cultures as socially unacceptable. Intervention may be required to decrease or eliminate the habit and minimize potential deleterious effects on the dentofacial complex. Success depends on the child's readiness to discontinue the habit.

Pacifiers should never be attached around the child's neck. Use of a sweetener on the pacifier nipple is discouraged. Pacifiers must also be kept clean and replaced when worn. Children should not be allowed to run or play with their pacifiers in their mouths.

The ability to gradually discontinue the use of the pacifier by limiting the time it is available to the child is one method for gradual elimination of a pacifier habit. Nonnutritive sucking of a pacifier is an easier habit to break than nonnutritive digit sucking.

Dental changes created with prolonged pacifier use are similar to those of finger or thumb sucking habits, though protrusion of the anterior incisors may not be as pronounced.


Types of Pacifiers and Appropriate Placement