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Could My Child’s Oral Habits Harm Their Speech Development?

Pacifiers and thumb sucking are common oral habits in young children. However, most parents are unaware of the risks associated with extended use of these habits. When it comes to healthy speech and swallowing development, it is important to set the stage for success at an early age. Stopping pacifier and digit sucking early can help children avoid speech and swallowing problems later on in life.

Suckling during infancy is a natural reflex that babies use to soothe themselves. Babies often will suck on their fingers or use a pacifier to calm themselves and this is completely normal and developmentally appropriate. In addition to soothing your baby, research shows that sucking on fingers and pacifiers during the first 6 months of life also helps reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They can also help parents to get some sleep! However, the benefits of these oral habits start to outweigh the risks after a year of age.

Pacifiers and thumb sucking are common oral habits in young children. However, most parents are unaware of the risks associated with extended use of these habits.

Why Oral Habit Elimination Is Important

After a year of age, children no longer need to rely on pacifiers or digit sucking to self soothe. Many children will give up these habits independently, but for some giving up these habits can be difficult. Without intervention, prolonged oral habits can impact:

  • Swallowing patterns: pacifiers and digit sucking reinforce infantile suck and swallow patterns and lead to a tongue thrust.

  • Teeth, face, mouth, and jaw development: Extended use of a pacifier or chronic thumb sucking will impact the way in which children’s dentition, oral palate, and jaw development. These children are at risk for having misaligned teeth, an open bite, and high palate. Additionally, children’s jaws are not able to rest naturally when there is constantly something in their mouth! Over time, this forces the muscles of the mouth to change the way they work for a child to bite, chew, and speak.

  • Speech: Significant oral structure changes and tongue thrust can negatively impact children’s ability to produce speech sounds correctly. Of particular concern with kids who exhibit a tongue thrust is the development of a lisp.

  • Language: If a child constantly has a pacifier or fingers in their mouth, they are missing out on lots of opportunities they could be talking instead! Overtime, these missed opportunities to be practicing sounds and using words really add up.

Treatment for Poor Oral Habits

There are many options you can try at home to help your little one drop the habit of pacifier use of thumb sucking. Praise your child when they are not sucking their thumb and provide a reward for reaching specific goals. Try keeping your kids’ hands busy with hands-on activities like playing with blocks or art projects. Some children respond positively to picking out a replacement soothing item like a new stuffed animal and then helping to throw out their pacifiers in the trash, which helps them feel involved in the process. If these techniques are not successful, schedule a consultation with one of our speech-language pathologists to help you with addressing harmful oral habits. In addition, speech therapy can help with the negative impacts of oral habits, such as eliminating improper chewing and swallowing habits, articulation difficulties, and delayed language development.

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