Drop the Pacifier

Thumb Sucking and Pacifiers – Ways to Wean

 One of the many parenting choices new moms and dads struggle with is the decision to give their newborn a pacifier. Once a standard accessory of childhood, the pacifier – and by association, the habit of thumb sucking – has developed a critical reputation for causing oral and tooth issues later on down the road. Long-term pacifier use is associated with dental problems in older children and may cause nipple confusion for breastfeeding newborns.  And, once your baby has been hooked on a binky, it can be difficult to stop the behavior.

Born with the Need

The urge to suck is one of the few instincts babies are born with. Many even begin to suck on their own fingers and thumbs while still in the womb. Once babies are out in the real world, they may use the habit of sucking to self-soothe and calm themselves, and even help themselves fall asleep. As any exhausted new parent can tell you – that’s a good thing!

However, rather than plugging a baby’s mouth with a pacifier, the best way to keep that urge satisfied is through regular breast-feeding sessions during the night. Co-sleeping can also help regulate baby’s sleeping and sucking patterns.

Hard Habit to Break

Between the ages of two and four, dental issues resulting from pacifier use or thumb sucking become more prevalent. Front teeth may become crooked and bite problems are observed. There also may be changes in tooth and jaw alignment.  The use of a pacifier will force the baby’s lower jaw back and can prevent proper airway and mid-face development.

Pacifier use after age two is also linked to ear infections, as constant sucking can cause auditory tubes to stay open, allowing secretions from the throat to drip into the middle ear.

Children typically grow out of thumb sucking by age four, and although pacifier use should be avoided, don’t beat yourself up if you have already given in and now find yourself in a situation that, well, sucks. If either of these activities has become an issue for your child, there are ways to help discourage the habit without using excess pressure or punishment.

  • Praise your child when they do not suck their thumb rather than scolding them when they do.
  • Focus on other ways to help with anxiety and worry – which can contribute to a child’s need to suck and self-soothe.
  • Offer a reward system to encourage good behavior.
  • Start the weaning process when your child has a cold and may be congested – thumb and pacifier sucking is much less appealing when you can’t breathe through your nose.

Your dentist may also have some helpful hints on how to best break the pacifier or thumb sucking habit. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that your child will not want to suck forever, and as long as the habit ends before permanent teeth start to appear, the repercussions of either activity are minimal.

Need tips on weaning pacifier use and thumb sucking? Talk to us! With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at dcsmiles.com or capitaltmjcenter.com.