You are here

Ask Dr. Sears: Weaning Off Pacifier

Q  My 17-month-old daughter still uses a pacifier. I want to wean her off of it but I was told not to, because it can help with teething. Is there any truth to this? I always thought using a paci for too long would ruin her teeth. Also, will the longer I let her use it make it that much harder to wean her off of it?

A. While pacifier use can get a child's mind off of teething pain, it's not beneficial to the process of teething itself. The act of sucking is very soothing for an infant, and it increases saliva production, which serves as a natural antiseptic that is good for oral hygiene. Despite these supposed benefits, extended pacifier use can, more likely than not, cause dental problems. The extra pressure exerted during sucking can cause dental malalignment (known as an open bite). Overbites are more common with thumbsucking than with pacifier use, but the risk is still there. And it is true that the longer you let her use it, the harder it will be to wean her off of it later. Here are some tried-and-true weaning tips:

Get her mind off of it.

Identify what situations trigger your child's desire for the pacifier—many toddlers love to suck on something when they're upset. Also, examine your own reactions to your baby when she is upset. Do you find yourself reaching for a pacifier instead of reaching for her? Next time she needs soothing, try offering Mommy-comfort rather than paci-comfort. Think of this as an opportunity to deepen your bond with her, since she'll be spending a lot more time in your arms and on your lap.

Teach her other self-soothing techniques.

In addition to being her human pacifier for a while, teach her ways to self-soothe (aside from thumbsucking, of course!). When she's upset or anxious, distract her with a fun play activity. Give her a cuddly doll or other transitional object to help her make the switch from the rubber pacifier to a more suitable soother.

Trade it in.

One paci-ditching trick that has worked for several of my patients is to take your child and pacifier to a toy store and let your child pick out a new toy or stuffed animal that will act as a substitute. At the checkout counter, "trade in" the pacifier for the toy. There are many experienced toy store clerks who are used to this little trick and willing to play along!

Use peer pressure.

Surround her with non-pacifier-using playmates to help her get the idea that pacifiers are not needed.

If you try these tricks and she resists to such an extent that she becomes a sadder child, take stock of the situation. She simply may not be ready to give the paci up, and that's fine for the short-term. If you conclude that your infant still needs her favorite pacifier for a few more months, go ahead and oblige, using these precautions:

  • Above all, always try other ways of comforting her first.
  • Don't dip the pacifier in honey or any sugary solution that could damage her teeth.
  • Let her use the pacifier for only short periods of time, and when you feel she particularly needs it.
  • Gradually shorten the frequency and length of time she's "plugged in" to the pacifier.
  • Rest assured that whether it's now or later, your child will outgrow the need for her silicon soother.