As a parent, you may have wondered when is the best time to phase out your child’s pacifier. And, like many parents, you’ve likely cringed at the thought of your crying toddler upset over the loss of their beloved paci.
But, is breaking the pacifier habit a necessity? It can be. Extended pacifier use can contribute to the development of oral myofunctional disorders, which can leave your child at risk for:
- Sleep apnea and snoring
- Tongue thrusting or tongue tie
- Tongue-tie laceration
- Teething issues
- Speech delays
- Poor eating habits
- Oral infections
- Tooth decay
- Increased incidence of middle-ear infections
Prolonged pacifier use can also impact tooth placement; in some cases, this can lead to dental malocclusion (bite problems) or jaw deformities, which can contribute to the development of temporomandibular joint (jaw) disorders later in life.
What Are Oral Myofunctional Disorders?
Oral myofunctional disorders are conditions that affect the chewing muscles, lips, cheeks, tongue, teeth, gums and jaws. They can cause pain, discomfort and even damage to these structures. These disorders can occur because of improper positioning of the head during sleep, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and/or genetics. The most common types of oral myofunctional disorder include:
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). This condition occurs when the joints connecting the lower jaw and skull become misaligned. When the jaw is not properly aligned with the rest of the body, it causes stress on the surrounding tissues. People who suffer from TMD often experience headaches, neck pain, jaw pain, difficulty chewing, clicking sounds, popping noises and other symptoms.
Oromaxillofacial Dysfunction. This condition involves abnormal muscular activity in the upper and lower jaw, as well as the muscles around the eyes and nose. Symptoms include facial tension, facial tics and eye blinking that seems involuntary.
Orofacial Cleft. This condition occurs when one side of the face fails to develop normally. In some cases, the cleft will close spontaneously. However, if left untreated, it can result in serious complications such as speech impediments, feeding difficulties and dental abnormalities.
Jaw Deformity. This condition occurs when there is an abnormality in the shape of the jawbone. A person with this condition may have a protruding jaw, underdeveloped mandible or both.
Poor Tongue Posture. This condition results in the tongue being positioned too far forward in the mouth. If left untreated, it can cause breathing problems, speech defects and swallowing difficulties. Pacifier usage can contribute to poor tongue posture.
Drooling. This condition occurs when saliva flows uncontrollably from the mouth. It can be caused by several factors including dry mouth, medication side effects, neurological disorders and genetic predisposition.
But Is Using a Pacifier Bad?
No, not at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that pacifier use for infants is fine after they’ve established healthy breastfeeding or bottle-feeding habits. The AAP recommends using a pacifier until age 2 years. After that, the AAP recommends weaning your child off the pacifier.
How to Wean Your Child From Their Pacifier
We get it. This is the part that can be a little scary. Here are some tips that might help you determine how and when to take the pacifier away:
- Pay attention to when your baby is using the pacifier. Are they sucking for real comfort or are they content and sucking just because they’re bored?
- Try to cut the pacifier during times your child doesn’t really seem to need it. Offer an alternative. For example, you could give your child a favorite new blanket or stuffed animal they are really excited about.
- Try rewards. We recommend that you get a fun calendar and stickers; when your child can go to sleep without the pacifier, give them a sticker to place on the calendar. Have a goal for the number of stickers it takes to earn a fun reward or activity. We recommend doing this for a few weeks to break the habit. Obviously, this approach is better for kids who are a little older and able to reason and understand rewards.
- Have a going-away party for all the pacifiers. Tell your child that their pacis are being donated to another baby who needs them. Make a big deal of packing them up and sending them off.
After the Pacifier
If you’re considering cutting out the pacifier, you may be wondering what comes next. If your child has an oral myofunctional disorder, they may need myofunctional therapy to help with the transition to retrain their mouth, tongue and muscles.
What is Myofunctional Therapy?
Myofunctional therapy is a type of physical therapy that helps improve oral motor skills and coordination by working on muscle tone, jaw function, tongue control and other factors.
How Does Myofunctional Therapy Work?
It works by helping your child develop good habits around eating and drinking. The therapist will teach your child a range of exercises and how to use chewing and swallowing techniques to eat healthy foods and liquids. They’ll also work on developing a strong gag reflex so your child doesn’t accidentally swallow things they shouldn’t.
Myofunctional therapy also helps to train your body to rest naturally, improves breathing, improves your tongue and lip posture, and helps to correct mid-face deficiencies.
Are you interested in learning more? Schedule a consultation today.