Babies often use sucking as a way to self-soothe and process information about their new surroundings. It's not unusual for a baby to suck on his or her thumb, fingers, or a pacifier. Some babies even start sucking their thumb in the womb.

While sucking might serve a purpose for babies, it can be harmful for toddlers who are developing their teeth. There are some good dental reasons to stop your toddler's sucking habit.

1. Tooth Decay

Decay is a serious problem that can cause your child pain as his or her teeth develop. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that eats away at the protective enamel covering a tooth. This decay often leads to the appearance of cavities that can cause a tooth to become infected.

Sucking can increase your child's odds of tooth decay because fingers or a pacifier introduce new bacteria into the mouth. More bacteria usually means more decay, so prevent cavities from becoming a problem for your toddler by putting a stop to sucking. If pain and cavities start to occur, seek out your local pediatric dentist.

2. Roof Narrowing

Your toddler's bones are extremely flexible. This is true of the bones in the roof of the mouth as well. Sucking on a thumb or a pacifier can cause the pliable bones in the roof of the mouth to mold to the shape of the thumb or pacifier. This leads to a narrowing of the roof in your toddler's mouth.

A narrow roof could negatively affect the growth of your child's permanent teeth and require costly dental procedures to reverse. Take away the pacifier and teach your toddler not to suck his or her thumb to ensure proper oral development.

3.  Jaw Misalignment

Another serious problem that can arise when a toddler continues to engage in sucking behavior is a misalignment of the jaw. Thumbs, fingers, and pacifiers are oddly shaped. The mouth is not naturally equipped to hold these foreign objects easily.

Over time, your toddler's jaw bones will begin to shift in order to accommodate the foreign object. Sucking can lead to serious jaw misalignment that can contribute to the development of bite problems or TMJ in the future.

It's important that you understand the long-lasting effects of sucking on oral development. Your pediatric dentist can help you explain to your toddler why sucking is bad, and a dentist can even use a specialized dental appliance that makes it difficult for sucking behavior to continue.