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What’s the Deal on Pacifier Use?

September 14, 2014
Posted By: Dr. Igor Kaplansky
Children's Dentistry Gasport NY

Are you worried about your child using a pacifier? Sure, you really like the idea that a pacifier soothes your child when nothing else seems to work. But you’ve heard that continued use can contribute to long-term dental problems. So what’s the deal, and should you be worried?

Why Do Pacifiers Soothe My Child?

It is natural for a baby or young child to suck their thumb. Many babies actually begin to suck their thumbs in the womb before they’re born. Thumb sucking and pacifiers provide a sensory way for babies to become familiar with their environments. Pacifiers and thumbs also provide comfort and emotional support for young children.

When Should I be Concerned?

For the most part thumb sucking and pacifier use are normal for small children and shouldn’t be concerning. Most children will grow out of the habit around the age of four years old. 

Sucking on pacifiers and thumbs both affect dental development in the same way - as your child’s permanent teeth emerge, thumb sucking and pacifiers could cause their front teeth to tilt upward. Prolonged use can even change your child’s bite alignment. 

Generally, if a child is sucking their thumb or using a pacifier before their permanent teeth emerge, you do not need to be concerned.  But it may be wise to wean them away from thumb sucking and pacifier use after the age of four when permanent teeth could be erupting.

How Can I Help Break Pacifier Habit With My Child?

There are several different approaches you can use to help your child stop sucking on their thumb or a pacifier.

  • Be honest with your child and tell them that if they continue to suck their thumb or pacifier their teeth may not come in straight. You may be surprised if is all it takes to get your child motivated to kick the habit! Don’t be afraid to get your dentist involved in the conversation as well!
  • Don’t make them quit cold turkey. Gradually restrict their use of the pacifier to certain times of the day. For example, let them know that they can’t suck their thumb or pacifier at school, but allow them to continue doing it at home. Then gradually limit the time week by week to slowly break the habit.
  • Positively reinforce your child’s behavior when they are able to resist sucking their thumb or pacifier. Because thumb and pacifier sucking is a comfort mechanism, criticism or punishment is often ineffective.
  • Since thumb sucking or using a pacifier helps comfort your child, consider replacing this habit with a teddy bear, blanket, or other comfort item.

If you are concerned about your child's pacifier use, the best step is to make an appointment with Dr. Kaplansky so that he can assess the seriousness of your child’s habit and recommend a course of action.  

Please contact our Gasport dental office to arrange an appointment if you’re interested in scheduling a dental appointment for your child.

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