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There are pros and cons to pacifier use for infants and toddlers. The sucking reflex is natural for infants, as it provides comfort and security. Some children continue to rely on sucking through preschool age. Most are ready to wean off pacifier use around age two or three.

The pacifier’s effect on your child’s teeth

Sucking is not likely to cause damage to your child’s teeth within the first 20 months or so. However, long-term pacifier use can lead to dental problems. These problems may include misalignment of the jaws, upper teeth that slant and stick out, bottom teeth that slant inward, or a narrowed palate (the roof of the mouth).  A narrowed palate will probably require an orthodontic appliance called an expander. It widens the palate to reduce the chance of significant overcrowding before adult teeth appear.

Dentist visits should start at an early age. The dentist will check and monitor the development of your child’s teeth and jaw. Be sure to inform the dentist that your child has a beloved “binky.” The dentist will diligently track any developmental changes. In addition, the dentist can talk to your child about why it is important to give it up.

When and how to stop pacifier use

Ideally, a child should stop using a pacifier around age two. It is even more necessary when baby teeth begin to fall out, around age four to six. Here are a few techniques you may want to try:

  • Anticipate times when your toddler will want his pacifier and provide a substitute
  • Try to pinpoint specific areas of anxiety, when your child is more likely to want sucking comfort. Address some of the anxiety issues with your child and reassure with snuggles and kisses.
  • Consistently praise your child when he or she does not use a pacifier. Do not punish or scold when it is used. Use positive reinforcement.
  • Limit pacifier times. Start with allowing it only at home. Then only at night.
  • Count down to “cold turkey.” Remind your child several times per day that the pacifier must go away in four days… then three days… and so on. If you choose this method, you absolutely must stick with it.
  • Read even more ways to get rid of a paci (via Baby Center)

Breaking the pacifier habit is not always easy, so tell your child’s dentist about any concerns you may have. The dentist is there to help you and keep your child’s teeth beautiful.