When should you wean your baby or toddler from pacifiers, sippy cups, and thumb sucking?

A toddler holding a sippy cupParents often use pacifiers, bottles, and sippy cups for the comfort that it offers. However, children often become dependent on the items, making it difficult to separate from the child. It is important for parents to know when to discontinue the use and help the baby or toddler mature and develop.

Dental professionals recommend limiting use of the pacifier by the age of two, which will avoid dental issues that can develop by age four. Babies tend to rely on a pacifier as the sucking motion creates a soothing effect that is calming and comforting. Although it can be used initially with babies, pacifiers can cause an overbite, speech impediments, and even disrupt normal chewing patterns. According to the American Dental Association, pacifiers can also cause tooth decay due to bacteria that is transferred to the mouth.

Thumb-sucking is another habit that is commonly developed by toddlers, as it continues the sucking habit and often replaces pacifiers. Although it is a convenient way of keeping a child happy, it can cause the top teeth to be pushed forward while the bottom teeth are pushed back. The habit can also lead to a disorder called an open bite in which the top and bottom front teeth do not meet even when the mouth is closed. Most of time patience and positive reinforcement can be used to wean a child from thumb sucking successfully, but in difficult cases, there are additional methods that can help such as covering the hands with gloves or using a substance on the thumb that does not taste good (be sure to check with your family dentist or physician for a recommended product).

As toddlers develop, sippy cups are often considered a helpful product to encourage independence with drinking. However, there are many drawbacks to using the product, which can include tooth decay and inappropriate swallowing or use of the tongue. The AAP Pediatric Nutrition Manual suggests that the use of sippy cups is discontinued by age two or three to avoid long-term oral problems that will have to be treated by your child’s dentist. The teeth can still be shifted with sippy cups in the same way that thumb sucking and pacifiers do, and they are even known to cause lisps. The relationship with sippy cups should be temporary and a mere transition to regular cups that are used by the child as they learn to eat and consume liquids on their own.

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