There are few objects in life that infants and toddlers will treasure more than their soother. Some sleep with them, some ride in the car with them, some use them to calm from loud cries, and some use them just about all the time. They will never turn down their soother when it is offered, and so it becomes the parents’ decision and imperative to end their child’s dependence on it.
Why do dentists care about the soother?
The Soother applies force on the upper and lower teeth after they have erupted. If the force is applied long enough, say 8 hours a day, this can cause an open bite (a moderate to large space between the front teeth preventing them from biting together).
It can also affect the growth of the upper and lower jaws by altering the position of the tongue when you child is at rest and when they are swallowing. Ideally, we like the tongue to be at the roof of the mouth when the jaws are at rest and when we are swallowing. If the soother creates an open bite, then the tongue will fill the space between the teeth in order to create enough suction to swallow. The lack of force on the roof of the mouth when swallowing can lead to a failure of the normal growth and expansion of the roof of the mouth – which is also the floor of the nose – this will lead to difficulty breathing through the nose and a propensity for mouth breathing. Of course, now we are back full circle to the tongue not being on the roof of the mouth but not just while swallowing – now it is also not on the roof of the mouth while at rest, due to the need to breathe through the mouth. Needless to say, it is a vicious cycle. Ultimately, not only can it lead to an open bite, but also underdeveloped jaws, crowding of the teeth, and a smaller than normal nasal and pharyngeal airway.
This change in the teeth and jaws can lead to difficulties in proper speaking, breathing, eating, and, of course, swallowing.
Enough scary pathophysiological stuff, how do we get rid of the soother? Not every child will respond the same to each technique so choose the one that you think suits your child the best and if that fails, try another one or create a new technique and let me know about it.
As far as timing goes, I would love for your child to get rid of their soother habit by 1-1.5 years, but generally it is recommended to get rid of a soother (or finger) habit before the age of 4. The fear is that by removing the soother too early, they may replace it with a finger or thumb habit, which is even more difficult to break… the habit not the phalange.
1) Cold Turkey: Just collect the soothers and throw them away (do not keep them or they will be used). This may be better for those whose children only use the soother at night. You can expect your child to cry for a while in protest, but if you keep firm, over the next month they will calm and you can move on. Beware, if they find a soother, you will be back to square one – so throw them away. Admittedly, it is very tempting to give them a soother, if there is one available, to stop the crying in those first few weeks.
Some will forewarn the toddler, three days earlier, with a short chat about growing up, and then, with the help of the child, they gather soothers and “recycle” them.
2) Taper down: If they use a soother throughout the day, start by cutting back during play times and excursions for a week or two. Then cut it out during car trips for a week or two. Then move on to nap times and finally when they are going to sleep at night. This will take longer, but may be less traumatic. Do not bring a soother with you if you are trying to cut it out. It is too convenient to stop crying with a soother, and often the child will find it in the jacket or bag where it is hidden.
3) Cut it up: Throw away most of your soothers and then start cutting the remaining soother(s) across the tip. The hole will decrease the pleasurable suction and, over time, as you cut it more, they will get less pleasure from having it in their mouth. The idea is that they will eventually reject the soother themselves. Don’t keep any extra intact soothers around as this will restart the process.
4) Prick it: This is similar to “Cut it up”, if you prick a hole (a somewhat large hole) through the soother, then they can no longer achieve suction. Eventually, they will reject the soother as it is no longer “soothing”.
5) Other: If you know of some other tips or techniques, I’m happy to hear them and even add them to this list.
A finger habit can be just as difficult, if not more difficult, to break but the timing would be similar. I will write a blog discussing finger and thumb habits in the future.
Thank you for making it to the end of this blog. If you have any questions or comments feel free to call (780-986-6255), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), comment on our Facebook Page, or come in for an appointment.
Dr. Jack Gordon