20 April 2018
Babies and toddlers often suck pacifiers and fingers as this brings them comfort and soothes them. It is best to start the weaning process as soon as possible. Kids MUST outgrow thumb and pacifier- sucking by the very latest 5 years old.
Beyond 5 years old, prolonged use of pacifiers and thumb sucking can adversely affect the development of adult teeth and skew the growing face; whilst causing speech and eating to become difficult.
The pacifier or finger pulls the new upper adult teeth forward and protrusive. A large open bite develops, where the front teeth cannot meet. The face shape narrows from long term sucking and imbalance in soft tissue forces, resulting in narrow dental arches which increases the risk of cross bites and dental crowding.
A long and narrow face develops from the uncontrolled eruption of the back teeth.
The longer the child uses the pacifier, the trickier the weaning process will be. Every child resists change initially and parents should expect some resistance.
Consider these ‘guerilla warfare’ tactics:
Sucking a pacifier or the finger is a comforting habit. Is there a trigger that causes your child to reach for it? Is he bored? Tired? Hungry? Playful? Needs soothing?
Identifying the root cause will be helpful in your tactical strategy to break the habit. Give your child what the pacifier has come to represent.
Distraction. A colourful toy or fun play activity will help break the fixation on the ol-favourite pacifier/ finger sucking. By substituting the pacifier with a toy/object/activity that is more suitable, with time, your child will not depend on the pacifier to fill the void.
Trade the pacifier for something that your child really likes at the toy store. It’ll be fun to have a ‘ceremony’ to officially ‘retire’ the pacifier and promote the new toy into your child’s life.
Surround your child with playmates who are not on the pacifier to encourage her to follow her friends and to recognize that it’s not a ‘must-have’.
How about appealing to the angel inside every child. Letting your child know that there’s a younger baby that really needs the pacifier, just like it was ‘given’ to him/her when she was a baby. This can trigger a feeling of doing something good for others. Have a ‘sending-off’ party for the pacifier and package it to be dropped off at the post box or picked up by the ‘tooth fairy’ at night. This can be a fun and defining moment. Supplementing this with a reward of a toy or book seals the deal!
Please be careful Not to sabotage the pacifier to make it less enjoyable to suck. By puncturing or deforming the pacifier with the good intentions of making it less desirable, the defective piece can be gnawed off and pose a choking threat!
Placing a drop of organic lemon juice or orange juice onto the pacifier or sucking fingers can sometimes trigger kids to give up the habit. It is best to be consistent with taste alteration till the habit stops as this sends the message to the child that ‘this phase is over’.
As a last resort, as Orthodontists, we do have ways to help break the thumb sucking/ pacifier habit. Habit breakers can be placed to help a child that recognizes the need to break the habit but needs a little help along the way. Habit breakers are NEVER a punishment and should not be projected onto the child to instill fear.
The weaning process maybe bumpy but as the saying goes, ‘’ this too shall pass…’’ With some time, peppered with lots of love and plenty of encouragement, your child WILL let go of it. If you are experiencing a lot of difficulty and need help, we are here to lend a listening ear and a helping hand in breaking this unhealthy habit.
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