Let’s talk about pacifiers, namely why pacifiers are so fantastic, when you should introduce it to your little one, and when you should get rid of it. The reason why I’m talking about pacifiers today is because this week’s Sleep Bible guest expert, pediatric dentist Dr. Lori Goldenberg. She came to speak to our Sleep Bible members all about maximizing our kids’ oral health. She gave a FANTASTIC piece of advice regarding the pacifier and our little ones’ teeth.
Before we delve into what Lori taught us all, let me first take a step back and talk about the pacifier from a sleep standpoint.
Why pacifiers are awesome
Pacifiers are fantastic for newborn babies because they help these little babies calm and sooth. Newborn babies are born with a sucking reflex. This means when they suck on something, it helps calm their little nervous systems. This is why introducing a pacifier to a newborn right away can be sanity saving!
The benefits of pacifiers don’t disappear when your baby gets older. The pacifier continues to be a wonderful sleep tool for older babies and toddlers because it’s inherently calming and soothing.
When to ditch the pacifier
Generally speaking, I don’t recommend removing pacifiers from the sleep equation until your child is at least 3 years-old. This is because toddlers often can’t understand (or care to understand) why this big change is happening. Taking a pacifier away from a toddler can be a bumpy ride, especially when you’re taking away something that they rely so heavily on to fall asleep.
When the child is a bit older (developmentally and emotionally), it’s often a bit easier to take the pacifier away. Preschool-age children can often be incentivized with rewards charts. As well, they can better understand what you’re explaining to them, allowing this transition to go more smoothly.
That being said, we obviously don’t want to be compromising your kid’s teeth. Always speak to your dentist and get personalized advice for your little one’s teeth.
The story of my two girls and their pacis
See, Lori has been our dentist since Emunah- my 8-year old- was just 2. When she was 3 years-old, we got rid of her pacifiers at her dental checkup. When she got rid of her pacifier, we took her to the dentist for her checkup. She got a toy in exchange and everything for the most part went seamlessly.
We had the same plan for Eliana. When she would turn 3, we’d take her to the dentist, she’d give Lori her pacifiers and get a toy in exchange.
That morning when it was time to take Eliana to the dentist, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew she wasn’t ready for this.
Eliana as a 3 year old was still very much a toddler. She was very babyish in that she was still throwing lots of temper tantrums, was very impulsive, and didn’t seem to understand the concept of a rewards chart. I knew that taking away her pacifier at this stage would be VERY challenging.
When I took Eliana to see Lori, I explained my fears and asked if it was possible to hold on to the pacifier for another six months. Lori looked in her mouth and saw that her teeth were fine told me we’d be just fine keeping the pacifier for another six months.
In that 6 month period, Eliana developed and matured quite a bit. She graduated that toddler phase and became a true preschooler. When it was time to go back to the dentist 6 months later, she was MUCH more ready for this change. As a result, getting rid of the pacifier went fairly smoothly!
An INCREDIBLY insightful piece of advice from my dentist
And so when I was reminding Lori of this story, she made a very insightful comment. She said to me: “If I told you that at 3 years-old, her mouth and teeth were forming just fine even with the pacifier, chances are you were only offering her her pacifier for sleep. You likely weren’t offering it to her during the day for soothing purposes.”
She was 100% right- I’ve always made a concerted effort to keep the pacifier in the crib as a sleep tool only. The reason why I was able to hold onto the pacifier for Eliana until age 3.5 without compromising her teeth was because she wasn’t offered the pacifier throughout the day as well as at night. Her pacifier usage was limited.
To sum things up
If there is any advice that the two of us can give you to maximize your little one’s pacifier usage without compromising teeth, it’s to limit pacifier usage for sleep purposes only. If your child is using the pacifier more frequently, chances are that it will begin compromising your little one’s teeth well before he/she turns 3. This means you’ll have to get rid of it sooner anyways!
Even though there are tons of two year-olds that get rid of their pacifiers, it’s often a VERY challenging process. It’s usually a much less bumpy road if you can hold onto the pacifier until age 3-3.5 without. Without compromising their teeth, of course!
Your best bet to get as much longevity from this fantastic sleep tool as possible is to limit it for sleep purposes only.