When To Take Away the Pacifier

Baby with pacifier

Alpharetta, GA – If your child is over the age of two and still using a pacifier, it’s time to start thinking about taking it away.

Pacifier use and thumb sucking are natural coping methods for babies and young children. Still, when they extend into the pre-school years or beyond, parents are typically concerned about the possible harm to their child’s teeth and dental health. The sucking reflex originates in the womb and provides stability to youngsters, especially when they are in strange settings or separated from their parents.

Why Is Using A Pacifier Good?

Sucking reflexes are common in newborns. Even before they are born, some newborns suck their thumbs or fingers. Sucking has a calming impact in addition to assisting with nourishment. But are pacifiers truly safe for your baby? Learn about the benefits and risks of using a pacifier and safety recommendations and how to wean your baby off of it.

Pacifiers are the key to contentment for some babies in between feedings. Consider the benefits:

  • A pacifier can help a fussy baby relax. When they’re suckling on anything, some babies are happy.
  • A pacifier provides momentary relief. A pacifier may be useful during and after needles, blood tests, or other procedures.
  • A pacifier may assist your child in falling asleep. If your baby is having difficulties sleeping, a pacifier might help.
  • A pacifier could help you sleep during your travel. Babies can’t “pop” their ears to ease earaches caused by air pressure changes by swallowing or yawning. Sucking on a pacifier may be beneficial.
  • A pacifier may aid in the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). At nap and nighttime, sucking on a pacifier may lessen the risk of SIDS.
  • Pacifiers are thrown away. You can discard pacifiers when you no longer need them. It may be more difficult to break your child’s habit of sucking on their thumbs or fingers.

“For newborns and infants, pacifiers can serve an important purpose,” says Dr. Nanna Ariaban, an Alpharetta children’s dentist. “They can soothe a child by helping the child fulfill his or her natural sucking reflex. And studies show pacifiers may be able to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. But if your child uses one for too long, you risk him doing serious damage to his mouth.”

After six months of age, the natural sucking needs usually fade; however, many youngsters find comfort in utilizing a pacifier or thumb sucking. Most experts agree that thumb sucking and pacifier use are harmless until roughly four.

thumb sucking

Why Is Using A Pacifier Bad?

Pacifiers, too, have their drawbacks. Consider the disadvantages:

  • Your child may become reliant on the pacifier. If your baby sleeps with a pacifier, you may experience screaming periods in the middle of the night if the pacifier falls out of their mouth.
  • The use of a pacifier may raise the incidence of middle ear infections. However, the incidence of middle ear infections is lowest between birth and six months, when the risk of SIDS is highest, and your baby is most likely to want to use a pacifier.
  • Long-term pacifier use may cause teeth issues. Normal pacifier use in the first few years of life does not usually result in long-term tooth issues. However, using a pacifier for an extended period may cause a child’s teeth to become crooked. 
  • A pacifier may disrupt breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your kid is 3 to 4 weeks old and you’ve established a nursing habit before introducing a pacifier. A study of unrestricted pacifier usage in healthy, full-term infants found that it did not affect breastfeeding continuation.

The good news is that most youngsters quit sucking their thumbs/using a pacifier on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. Toddlers develop other coping mechanisms (such as language abilities). They are usually so preoccupied with exploring and playing that they no longer require a pacifier or thumb sucking. When a youngster begins school, they typically feel compelled to blend in with their peers, and thumb sucking naturally ceases.

If a child is still sucking on a pacifier or thumb sucking at the age of four, parents should look into ways to help their child break the habit since it can harm permanent tooth eruption.

Sucking is a natural reflex that babies develop while still in the womb.

During the first year and a half of your child’s life, sucking on a pacifier will not cause long-term damage. But frequent, continued sucking can cause irreversible damage unless treated by an orthodontist. Problems that can arise include

  • Top front teeth that slant out,
  • Bottom teeth that tilt in
  • Misaligned jaws,
  • and the misshapen roof of the mouth.

“The most common problem we see with extended pacifier use is a space in the front teeth or an overbite,” says Dr. Nanna. “Children who use pacifiers past their toddler years are more likely to need braces and other dental work.”

But how do you break the habit?

Knowing there is a valid reason to stop your child’s pacifier use is one thing, but creating a plan to do it can be hard. Children become dependent on it, and it can be hard for the parent to take away out of fear it will make their child sad.

“If your child is old enough, the best thing to do is talk about it and create a plan together,” says Dr. Nanna. “You can create a fun countdown to the day the pacifier will be removed and have some treat for the child for giving up the pacifier.”

Some parents find it easier to have their child quit the habit cold turkey. Perhaps they leave the pacifiers behind on a trip or encourage the child to leave their pacifiers under their pillow for the tooth fairy to take in exchange for a small trinket.

Other parents may find it extremely hard to stop the pacifier habit, so they can take small steps to discourage the child from sucking on it. Parents can safely snip the end of the pacifier – this will make the pacifier less satisfying to suck on, so the child will eventually stop. Other parents may find putting something that tastes bad, such as white vinegar, on the end of the pacifier will help discourage the child.

“It’s important to give your child positive reinforcement,” says Dr. Nanna. “Praise her when she leaves the pacifier at home, but never scold her when she does use it. If your child tends to suck on a pacifier when he is scared, tired, or anxious, find other ways to help your child cope with those feelings so you can wean away from the pacifier.”

Tips To Help Your Child Stop Using A Pacifier

Breaking the habit of thumb sucking works best when the child is involved and willing to participate. As a result, positive reinforcement is far more effective than shaming, scolding, or excessive pressure, which can cause more harm than good. For children who have a more difficult time quitting smoking, parents can use a gradual method that includes encouragement, comfort, and patience. Remember that thumb sucking is a coping mechanism, so stopping is as mental as physical. Some things you can try include 

  • Begin with a discussion: Explain the importance of maintaining healthy teeth and how thumb-sucking/pacifier use can cause issues when the new “big girl” or “big boy” teeth come in. If necessary, use a mirror to demonstrate where and how the teeth will erupt.
  • Remind your child that harmful germs are passed from the thumb/pacifier to the mouth.
  • Choose a non-stressful time to begin the weaning process: Anxious children will want to suck their thumbs or pacifiers even more.
  • Begin small: Limit your child’s use of a pacifier or thumb sucking (only at home or at nap time). Gradually increase the time between sessions until your child no longer requires their thumb or pacifier.
  • Use praise rather than criticism: Be sure to compliment your child on minor accomplishments. Breaking a habit is difficult, so your child will require encouragement.
  • Distract your child: If your child uses a pacifier or sucks their thumb during certain activities, try to divert attention away from the need for a comforting mechanism. Spend extra time doing enjoyable activities to keep your child’s mind busy.
  • Involve your dentist: Your pediatric dentist can help your child by explaining how teeth grow and the importance of quitting smoking.
  • Remove your child’s pacifier or thumb while sleeping: While your child may “need” the sucking action to sleep, removing it later will help reduce the amount of sucking time and start the weaning process.
  • Be adaptable: If something upsetting happens or your child is hurt, loosen the rules a little, as thumb sucking is a common form of comfort.
  • Extend your hugs: Remember that your child is giving up their security device. Prepare to assist when the occasion arises.
  • If you’re looking for a unique way to express yourself, this is the place to be. If your child requires something tangible for comfort, give them another object.
  • Use a reward system: Set goals and reward accomplishments with small tokens (such as stickers).
  • Allow your child to help plan the reward method and how you will celebrate when the final goal is met. Track your progress with a chart or a calendar.

Schedule An Appointment For Your Child

Your Pediatric Dentist in Roswell can also play an essential role in helping your child stop using a pacifier. Dr. Nanna and her staff are always happy to speak with children about what can happen to their teeth if they keep using a pacifier and offer encouragement to help them stop the habit.

“We want your child to have a healthy, beautiful smile,” says Dr. Nanna. “We are always happy to help you by encouraging positive habits and helping your children understand the best way to care for their teeth.”

If your child is over 18 months and still using a pacifier, it’s time to break the habit before too much damage is done.

Leave a Reply