When And How to Wean Your Child Off Pacifiers
Pacifiers - small rubber/plastic nipples that fit in a baby's mouth - are a godsend for many harried new parents who cannot calm their child or get them to sleep without the help of this self-soothing tool.
The act of sucking is a natural reflex for babies, and pacifiers make them feel secure enough to relax and enjoy a feeling of contentment as they learn to adjust to their new environment with strange sounds, sights and other sensory stimuli.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the prolonged use of pacifiers which concerns many parents whose child has developed a strong bond with their pacifier. To alleviate these concerns and offer some practical tips, we will discuss the matter of weaning your baby off a pacifier in greater detail in this article.
How Pacifiers Affect Teeth
According to the American Dental Association, pacifiers (and thumb sucking) can affect proper teeth alignment. They might also impact the formation of the roof of the mouth. Pacifiers exert a small but steady pressure on the teeth of young children. Over time, this can push the angle of baby (primary) teeth forward, resulting in crooked or protruding growth and jaw misalignment. Any anomaly in proper positioning of baby teeth may affect the growth of adult teeth in later years.
Although there is nothing wrong with using pacifiers for a while, it is important to make sure not to continue using them so long that they start to cause these dental problems.
Take Precautions When Using Pacifiers
Make sure you are using pacifiers the right way even as you are planning to wean your child off it:
- Inspect the pacifier before each use and throw away any pacifier that is damaged or showing signs of wear.
- Regularly clean the pacifier with soap and water and store in a clean, dry place.
- Avoid sharing pacifiers with other children.
- Periodically sterilize the pacifier by boiling it in water for five minutes.
- Don't dip the pacifier in honey or any other sweet food before giving it to your baby. This encourages cavities.
- Avoid using pacifiers with long cords or ribbons attached to them.
When Should You Stop Pacifier Use?
There are a few different stages in a baby’s life when it makes sense to stop using a pacifier. The best time to think about weaning children off their pacifiers is 6 months. As time goes on, they develop a stronger bond with their self-soothing tool and the matter must be handled carefully, and gradually, so as not to cause panic and anxiety.
All children are not made equal and how to handle the weaning process depends wholly on their dependence and disposition.
Phasing Out of Pacifiers Over Time
One of the most important things to keep in mind when phasing out pacifier use is to take your time. It can be hard for adults to appreciate this, but from the perspective of the child, the pacifier has probably been a part of their life for as long as they have existed. It makes sense that they may feel some reluctance to give it up and quitting cold turkey is sometimes not a viable option.
Another option would be to gradually start limiting their pacifier time. Be very predictable and specific about the times your child will have their pacifier. Talk to your child about the harm a pacifier can cause to their teeth. Explain the negative effects of prolonged pacifier use and look at pictures together to further help them understand the consequences of continuing to use a pacifier.
One of the best ways to get children to be amenable to giving up their pacifier is to replace the tool with something new that they find interesting and comforting, such as a special stuffed toy.
Some parents worry about replacing pacifiers with yet another comfort accessory, but that fear is unfounded. The main reason to stop pacifier use is to protect their dental health, and a stuffed toy for example, does not pose a threat to their healthy growth and development.
Ask Your Pediatric Dentist About Stopping Pacifier Use
Seek help or advice from Dr. Debra Duffy, a pediatric dentist, if you’re finding the pacifier weaning process to be challenging. Call the Duffy Dental Ranch at 940-278-0909 or request an appointment here.