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Healthy Living

Stop Pacifying Pre-Schoolers

If your child's heading to pre-school this year and is still using a pacifier, now's the time to work with your child to drop the "binkey".

Thousands of parents rely on pacifiers to calm and soothe a fussy baby. For children under the age of one, the continuous sucking action is normal and healthy.

However, if parents allow children to continue using a pacifier after age one and into toddler years, this action becomes habit instead of a natural instinct and can be detrimental to a child's oral health, reports the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.

"Prolonged pacifier use can impede the natural development of teeth, the jaw and normal palate formation," says Julie Ann Barna, DMD, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy. "For a child with several baby teeth, pacifier use can cause upper teeth to protrude and lower teeth to jut in."

In addition to moving and shifting teeth, studies show that pacifier users are more likely to suffer from acute middle ear infections. "Continuous sucking on a pacifier causes the auditory tubes to open abnormally allowing secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear," says Dr. Barna. "This makes the ears more susceptible to infection-causing bacteria."

Researchers have found no physiological reason why children should be allowed a pacifier past the age of one, and report a trend that many prolonged pacifier users become prolonged thumb-suckers after the pacifier is taken away, adding to a child's risk of damaging the natural position of the teeth.

For the health and proper development of your child, Dr. Barna agrees that parents should drop the pacifier by the child's first birthday and recommends "trading-in" the pacifier for sippee cups which promote the development of hand-eye coordination and help break the sucking habit.

More tips for taking "binkey" away:

  • According to Dr. Barna, talk to your child and remind them they are a big kid now who goes to school and does not need a pacifier.

  • Set goals with your child, such as only using a pacifier to fall asleep with at first, and reward them for reaching goals.

  • Positive reinforcement works well with toddler-age children; praise them for acting like a big kid.

  • Do not get frustrated with your child; this tends to make the habit worse.

  • If your child's teeth are moving, talk to your dentist for personalized advice.

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