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.


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