Many parents are thankful for the invention of pacifiers that can help calm and soothe fussy babies. Infants often use a pacifier or suck on a thumb for comfort, security or simply as a method to make contact with the world. In fact, some babies begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born! The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends a pacifier over a thumb to comfort new babies since a pacifier habit is easier to break at an earlier age.
Why does this matter?
The sucking reflex is completely normal and many children will stop sucking on thumbs, pacifiers or other objects on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. Frequent pacifier use over a longer period of time can affect the way a child’s teeth bite together and the growth of the jaw. The upper teeth may tip outward or become crooked and other changes in tooth position or jaw alignment could occur. Intervention may be recommended for children beyond 3 years of age. The earlier a child can stop a sucking habit, the less chance there is that it will lead to orthodontic problems down the road.
My child won’t give up their pacifier – what do I do?
Some parents swear by cold turkey, while others have gradually weaned their children off pacifiers. Below are some techniques that will help your infant give up the Binky for good. But no matter which route you take, remember that as the experts in little teeth, pediatric dentists will be an invaluable resource for guidance and recommendations on the best approach to quit the pacifier.
Ask your pediatric dentist
A pediatric dentist can assist in encouraging children to stop a sucking habit and discuss each child’s particular situation. This, along with support from parents and caregivers, helps many children quit their pacifier and thumb-sucking habits. If your child needs further encouragement, pediatric dentists can also recommend behavior modification techniques to persuade children to quit the pacifier for good.
Offer an alternative
What causes your child to cry out for their beloved Binky? Once you’ve identified which situations trigger your child’s desire for a pacifier, be ready to replace it with comfort and reassurance. It can be helpful to swap out the pacifier with a transitional object such as a cuddly doll or stuffed toy. Additionally, distracting your child with a fun activity can help take their mind off the desired Binky. Be sure to offer positive reinforcement and praise when your child sleeps through the night or self-soothes without his pacifier.
Time to get creative
If you’re still running into roadblocks, it’s time to put a creative spin on the “bye-bye Binky” process. One idea is to take your child and pacifier to the store to pick out a new toy to replace their pacifier. There are many experienced store clerks who are used to this trick and are willing to play along when your child “trades in” the pacifier for a new toy of her choosing. Other parents have thrown a “Goodbye Binky” party, set out the pacifier for the Binky Fairy or donated the Binky to children who need it.
Use a countdown
If your child is resisting the idea of losing his or her pacifier, try making the process into a game. Similar to the graphic shown on this page, create a countdown game where you tell the child that over the next three to four weeks Binky will be shrinking. The first week, cut a very small hole in the top of the pacifier. Be careful to make clean cuts that do not leave any part of the pacifier hanging which could break off in your child’s mouth. Continue to cut a portion of Binky off each week until there is no longer anything left for your child to suck on. This is a great way to separate your child’s association from someone taking the pacifier away to the pacifier just breaking on its own. At the end, you can tell your child it’s time to bid Binky bye-bye.
Timing is key
Whether you decide to gradually wean or go cold turkey, make sure to time it right. Try not to take away the pacifier during life changes, major transitions or traveling so as not to put further stress on the process. Once you’ve made the plan to ditch the pacifier, make sure all caregivers are on board and stick with it! If you choose to gradually remove the pacifier, try limiting use to nap time and bed time at first. Or, let your child use the pacifier for short periods of time if you feel he particularly needs it, and gradually shorten the frequency and length of time the pacifier is used.
If you decide to go cold turkey, be sure to collect all pacifiers around the house – the last thing you need is your little one finding a pacifier the week after she gave it up and going back to square one! If you need additional ideas on how to wean your child off the pacifier be sure to ask your pediatric dentist or visit mychildrensteeth.org for further tips and a pediatric dentist locator to find a pediatric dentist near you.
Dr. Ed Moody is in private practice in Morristown, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Auburn University and the University Of Tennessee College Of Dentistry, and received his certificate in pediatric dentistry from the Medical College of Virginia. He has been a member of the AAPD for 25 years. Moody and his wife, Jenny, are the parents of three daughters.