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Infants have a natural need to suckle. Even in the womb, we have seen the fetus sucking its fingers or thumb. Sucking is not only an instinct for survival, but a means for soothing stimulation and pleasure. Many child psychologists feel it is a good idea to allow your child to satisfy his or her need for oral gratification. The problem lies not with the sucking action itself, but with the method used. Finger and thumbsucking are generally thought to be harmful to a child's facial development, but controversial studies show it is not a major threat until about the age of four. Before that time it seems there is seldom any long-term damage. Occassionally, it can create tongue thrusting patterns and deviated jaw motions. Thumbsucking may also be considered unsightly and an obstacle to the infant's free use of his or her hands.

Beyond age four, if the habit persists the chances of permanent damage increase greatly. The greater the intensity of sucking, the greater is the damage. The child may need braces to straighten his or her teeth, and orthopedic dental treatment to correct jaw malalignment and other areas of the face that have been malformed.

If finger and thumbsucking are feared for their ill effects, you may want to give your baby a pacifier. Past generations frowned upon their use, but today many believe it is a positive alternative. If the type of pacifier used is orthodontic, there should not be any possible problem with tongue thrusting and altered jaw motions. To avoid accident its design should be one piece and fracture resistant. Your baby will safely be able to satisfy its need for oral gratification and yet still have its hands free. The downfall is that the pacifier may still be considered unsightly.

Most children will break the sucking habit on their own. Experts feel if you let children satisfy the sucking urge while young, they will freely give up the habit when they're older. However, some children need a little help.

Many people say breaking the habit will be easier if the child has been using a pacifier instead of fingers. The parent will probably have more control over a pacifier than a child's hands. But for any form of sucking, try reasoning, peer pressure, interference activities, and other methods to stop the behavior. If all else fails, dental appliances are often quick and effective tools for breaking the habit.

There is no doubt that it is beneficial for the infant to develop in the way Nature intended. From a dental health standpoint, breast-feeding or proper bottle-feeding will allow good oral and facial development to occur. If proper feeding methods are used the need for oral gratification is greatly satisfied, and will hopefully reduce the need for supplementary thumbsucking. If your child needs additional oral gratification, use of an orthodontic pacifier will work as a positive supplement.