It is no secret that millions of children all around the world love their pacifiers. For many parents this little device is the best way to sooth and calm a child when all else fails. One of the main reasons for this is that sucking on a pacifier or something as simple as their own thumb helps them feel content and secure. Your pediatrician or pediatric dentist in Austin will inform you that your child’s desire to suck on a pacifier is natural and perfectly normal as it is a part of their reflexes learned by the instinct of breastfeeding. Pacifiers are also a great way to help children fall asleep and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) even encourages the use of pacifiers from the ages of one month to one year.
That being said, it’s also very important to know when it’s time for your child to stop using a pacifier before it damages the natural growth and alignment of their teeth. Studies have shown that pacifier and thumb sucking beyond a certain age can cause serious damage to the formation of your child’s mouth. This occurs when they continue this habit into a certain stage of their oral development cycle. The most common issue being that excessive use over a long period of time can cause your child’s front teeth to grow outward which then causes disruptions to their bite as well as tooth and jaw alignment.
When to take away a pacifier: Age 2
Although it can be a difficult task, your pediatric dentist in Austin recommends that children should refrain from sucking on pacifiers after the age of two years old. If your child continues beyond this age it can result in “pacifier teeth” which is a term used to describe when a toddler’s front teeth are pulled forward and misaligned.
Other health risks of prolonged pacifier use
In addition to the dental risks, the American Academy of Family Physicians also warn that excessive use after the age of six months can also cause other potential health problems. One of the most common of said health risks is ear infections.
Continuous sucking on a pacifier causes the auditory tubes to become abnormally open, which allows secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear. This transmission of bacteria in the secretions can then cause middle ear infections. If you have noticed that your baby is prone to ear infections, you may want to consider discontinuing the use of the pacifier to see if it helps to reduce the reoccurring ear infections. This is extremely important as regular ear infections in children can cause permanent hearing damage. It is also therefore advised that you allow your child to use their pacifier in moderation.
What about thumb sucking?
As for thumb sucking, you should help your child break this habit before their second birthday. Similar to the effects of prolonged pacifier use, by age 2-3 years, many thumb and finger sucking children have a gap between their upper and lower teeth. Their jaw development changes, which can then cause issues with speech. Their tongue muscles also don’t develop correctly, making certain speech sounds difficult. The most common sounds being “th” and “s”.
If you wait until after your child’s permanent teeth come in to stop thumb sucking, they are also at risk of developing “buck teeth” and an appearance that is not cosmetically pleasing and expensive to fix with orthodontic treatment. As a rule of thumb (pun intended), thumb sucking should generally be discouraged, and you should rather induce the habit of sucking on a pacifier as the former is a more difficult habit to break once your child grows older.
How to break the habit
Getting your child to break a bad habit is often very difficult and can get frustrating at times. It is, however, very important to help your child break this habit in a healthy manner as excessive pressure and a lack of patience can also cause harm. As a parent you should consider the following:
- Positive reinforcement is the best way to break a habit. Scolding your child might encourage them to do it even more seeing as it helps them feel content and secure. Try to praise them when they are not sucking their thumb/pacifier and tell them you are proud to see they are growing up and acting like a “big kid”.
- If your child is older and they are struggling to break the habit, next time you visit your pediatric dentist in Austin ask them to explain the repercussions of prolonged sucking to your child. Due to the perception children have of doctors, it can often help to have somebody of their stature explain what could happen if the child does not listen to their parents.
- As mentioned before, children often use sucking their thumb or a pacifier as soothing mechanism when they experience anxiety or feel insecure. You can try and observe when this occurs to address what makes them feel this way. Solving the issue could help prevent sucking.
- Rewarding good behavior is also a great way to encourage your child to stop sucking on their thumb or pacifier. If your child does not revert to their thumb or pacifier in a “stressful” situation reward them to encourage this behavior.
Keep in mind, your pediatric dentist in Austin would probably advise you to not reward your toddler with sweets or treats as parents often do. Start a star chart and only reward them with a treat once they achieve 5 stars. This will also have other psychological benefits and teaches your child to work towards something through good behavior.
When to take away a pacifier can certainly differ from child to child so pay attention to your child’s specific situation. To achieve the best results, ensure you take your child in for regular checkups to your pediatric dentist in Austin during the early stages of oral development.
Here at Westlake Pediatric Dentistry we want what’s best for your child and that means helping to prevent oral complications when they are older. If you want more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us today for an appointment to start your child’s journey to a healthier future.