Breaking the Habit: Thumb Sucking And Pacifiers

By Dennis Douda, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The National Institute of Health says about 65 percent of babies  use pacifiers and 45 percent of  toddlers find comfort at their finger tips as thumb suckers. So, should parents worry? Just a little.

Karrisa Heer did. Her 3-year-old son Ethan was none too happy about giving up his pacifier.

“We did the going away binkey party. That didn’t work,” said Heer.

Call them what you want, soothers, passies or binkies, some kids do not give up their habit easily.

Ethan will turn 4 this week. His mom was determined to make sure his binkie days are done.

“The binkey fairy came and got it,” Heer said, with a nod of confirmation. “I threw it away.”

Her insistence stemmed from worrying about what the pacifier could do to her son’s teeth. Woodbury pediatric dentist Dr. Teresa Fong said the majority of kids give up the pacifier by age 3 or so, which generally eliminates any risk for long-term dental problems.

In more persistent thumb suckers and pacifier users, teeth can shift, sometimes severely.

“The real damage can occur when they are losing their baby teeth and getting their permanent teeth,” said Dr. Fong.

She pointed out a photograph of a child whose front teeth did not close together, leaving a half-inch gap.

“Where you see this opening you can tell that’s where the child has been placing the thumb or a pacifier,” Fong said.

Overbites or “buck teeth,” flaring and cross-bites are other conditions that may need to be fixed later with braces.

Dr. Fong said it is important for parents to remember that sucking is a natural reflex for children who need to be able to nurse at birth. To help a child break their pacifier habit, she suggests talking to their dentist about finding an individual approach that will work.

For starters, Dr. Fong said, keep the message positive. Reinforce that not needing a pacifier is a good thing. Point out people the child admires who do not use a pacifier.

Distraction is another proven method, finding activities that keep them too busy for thumb sucking or pacifiers.

She also suggests paying attention to what other behaviors the child exhibits at the time.

“Do they hold a blanket? Do they hold a stuffed animal? What is the other comfort thing that they hold while they suck their thumb? And, generally, if we can get rid of the thing that they hold, we can get rid of the thumb sucking,” Dr. Fong said.

NOTE: The Minnesota Dental Association holds Give Kids a Smile Friday and Saturday, providing free care for thousands of children. To make an appointment or get further information, click here.

  • Tonya

    Throw the thing away for crying out loud. Neither of my two children had pacifiers or were thumb suckers. Do you know how dirty and stupid these older kids look sucking on those things?

  • JackieM

    For me, getting rid of the plugs were harder on me, even though I hate them, then they were on the kids. This last one couldn’t find a plug one night and he’s been fine.

  • Holly Irvin

    How do you take away a thumb?

  • Pate

    Cold turkey-fast.I have no pacifier-suckers in my toddler class,and they all nap fine without one.Sticking to a schedule also helps.

  • JamieinMN

    Here’s how to break a habit…Don’t even START it!

    • Macy

      Except that pediatricians recommend the use of pacifiers for babies because it’s been proven to reduce their risk of SIDS. So way easier said than done, many parents use pacifiers and it’s not frowned upon. And trust me, if your kid wants to suck his thumb there isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop them. I have 3 kids and it was strongly recommended they have pacifiers because of the SIDS thing. The parents just need to parent and take them away by age 3 or prepare to pay for braces later in life.

  • Eartha

    No harm in it. Leave the babes be.

  • Andrea Van Ness

    Breaking the thumb sucikng habit was easy….you can a helpful product called thumbuddy To Love. You can google it. I belelvie they are making a product too for binky suckers. It is a great teaching tool to let go of harmful habits and kids love it becasue it is fun and friendly and not shameful. check it out! and no you can not take away a thumb so Thumbuddy To Love makes it easy…

  • Joy

    My son used a pacifier til age 2. This Mom’s Guide ( has been a helpful resource for me. It suggests taking your kids to the dentist at age 1. That way if they are thumb/pacifier suckers, their dentist can watch for any problems from early on. My son gave up his pacifier with no problems. Our 2nd boy is also into pacifiers. Hoping it goes as well with him.

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