According to American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), both pacifier and finger sucking are considered normal behavior in infants and toddlers. Children often stop using pacifiers or sucking their thumbs on their own. But the AAPD recommends that if pacifier sucking continues past age 3, children should have a professional evaluation to prevent long-term oral problems—such as tooth misalignment—and to help with changing the child’s habits, if necessary.
To wean your child from the pacifier, it’s best to begin before age 24 months. Here are some suggestions:
Limit pacifier use to nap time, before bed, and during stressful or painful times (during a checkup with shots, for example).
Try substituting a blanket with silk binding to comfort your toddler during naps.
Tell your child that you can send the pacifier to the tooth fairy in exchange for a present. For older children, swapping the pacifier for a special toy may work.
Praise and reward the child for not using the pacifier. Teasing or punishment is not an effective way to change a habit.
If it comes down to a choice between sucking a pacifier and sucking a thumb, choose the pacifier. A child who becomes dependent on a pacifier or thumb sucking is likely to put it aside at school age because of peer pressure, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. When thumb sucking persists beyond ages 6 to 8, it can have long-lasting consequences, actually altering the shape of the mouth and the position of the child’s emerging permanent teeth.
“Infant Pacifiers: An Overview.” R.H. Schwartz and K.L. Guthrie. Clinical Pediatrics. May 2008, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 327–31. http://cpj.sagepub.com/content/47/4/327.extract. Accessed 2013.
“Thumb, Finger and Pacifier Habits.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 2011. http://d27vj430nutdmd.cloudfront.net/17255/64422/64422.3.pdf Accessed 2013.
“Dental Care for Your Baby.” American Academy of Pediatrics. http://d27vj430nutdmd.cloudfront.net/17242/64415/64415.1.pdf. Accessed 2013.
“Parenting Corner Q & A: What’s the Best Way to Get a Child to Stop Sucking His Thumb or Using a Pacifier?” American Academy of Pediatrics, June 22, 2010. www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspx Accessed 2013