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Posts for: January, 2013

By Sharon Kuttler, RDH
January 24, 2013

Practical tips for parents looking to break sucky habits:

1. Don’t Plug the Baby
Because no parent likes to hear their baby cry, it can be tempting to help, hush the baby by plugging in a pacifier, thumb or bottle. Weigh this impulse against the possible long-term difficulties and address why the baby is crying. Try the reassurance of holding the child for a period of cry time to release the day’s energy and allow the child to fall asleep before encouraging the thumb, finger or pacifier.

2. Pacifier or Fingers and Thumbs
A pacifier has the major advantage that it can be gradually limited during the day, and eventually used at bedtime only. While habitual sucking on anything can create dental malformations, pacifiers may exert less pressure against the teeth than thumbs. However sucking can be more intense with a pacifier, which leads to greater potential for a dental cross bite. NEVER dip a pacifier in something sweet to encourage use; this has devastating effects on baby teeth as they come in. Speech–Language pathologist at Mercy Service Club Autism Center Laura Keehner advised parents to “choose a pacifier over a thumb and keep the habit to sleeping time and not all day long.” She explained that this allows for more normal tongue and articulator movement during the waking hours, so toddlers don’t “talk around” a pacifier.

3. Reducing the Habit
After age two the sucking habit is less a physical need and is more emotional. The longer the habit persists the more difficult it is to break. If your child has celebrated his second birthday, you should consider reducing pacifier use.

Start by noticing when and where the sucking is prevalent; is it with a favorite toy or blanket? You can start by limiting the ‘props’ during the day, keeping them only in the bedroom. Offer reassuring hugs instead of putting something in the child’s mouth (including food, milk or juice). Avoid reacting strongly to these limits; rather than ‘rules’ use good humored, gentle reminders such as “teddy stays in your crib” or “no blankets in the kitchen.”

4. Stay Positive
As soon as the child is able to engage in self-responsibility, the process of ending the finger or thumb habit can begin. Ending the habit is more of a process than an event, and it’s critical that parents approach this with gentleness and kindness, or the habit may become more intense. No punishing, no negativity—only measures to reinforce and assist, so you can positively work together. The child must also be at a stage where she is psychologically equipped to want to change, and choose to participate in the process. Think of this like potty training time, when time and intent are focused on the desired outcome. Understanding the readiness of the child is the key to success with changing these habits. Discuss it, but don’t make it an argument. A gentle discussion at a dental visit can help set the stage to move in the right direction.

Dr. Valerie Peckosh, a Dubuque dentist who specializes in pediatric dentistry, shared ideas that have worked well in her practice. To be successful, all of these require the commitment and willingness of the child and the patience and perseverance of the caregivers to stay with the process. Use encouragement and positive words like “this will help you remember” or “this will help remind you to choose” rather than “this will make you stop.”

  1. Use a positive reward system. Keep a chart, decide on a gift or treat.
  2. A fabric style band-aid on the finger or thumb can be a helpful daytime reminder.
  3. Attach a sock with a few stitches to a pajama sleeve to help keep thumbs and fingers out of the mouth during sleep time.
  4. For known ‘sucking times,’ use a distraction technique to keep hands busy. For example, carry extra toys in the car to occupy the child’s attention, or at home have a squeeze ball available when watching television.

Any parent will tell you that this process can wear on your patience, but in those moments, remember the peace and comfort the pacifier or thumb brought. Then look ahead to the beautiful smile your little one will shine back at you.

This blog post is continued from Sucky Habits: Part One.

The original article appeared in Parenting Today & Tomorrow magazine.


By Sharon Kuttler, RDH
January 15, 2013

It can begin even before birth, it can give comfort and security and it can ultimately cost a lot of money to solve the problems that it can create. What is it? It is your child’s thumb- or finger-sucking habit, or use of a pacifier.

But isn’t the sucking impulse essential? Absolutely! Sucking is the only way an infant takes in nourishment. It is a newborn’s reflexive response that seeks food, comfort, soothing and the transition from wakefulness to sleep. The big question is: How and when is it time to stop?

With ongoing sucking habits, changes in the development of the mouth and teeth can start between the ages of two and three years. The duration, intensity and frequency of the habit can increase the potential for later problems.

The longer the sucking habit persists, the stronger the sucking habit is and the more often your child uses their finger or pacifier, the higher the probability that your child will have structural orthodontic problems—a cross bite in the back teeth (where the top teeth fall inside the bottom teeth when you bite down), or an open bite (that pushes up the roof of the mouth and pushes the teeth out and forward). “Buck teeth” that stick out, or a “tongue thrust” that can lead to a lisp are also possibilities.

Dr. Chad Morarend, an orthodontist with Dubuque Orthodontic Associates, said that “prolonged sucking behaviors result in the malalignment of the teeth and underlying bones. We encourage early diagnosis and timely orthodontic intervention.” He recommends early diagnosis to treat “simple orthodontic problems before they become complex and more expensive.” Discussing dental development is a great reason to make that first visit to the dentist by your child’s first birthday.

So what can a parent do to both use this comfort tool but also know when it’s time to make some changes?
As with most things—especially in dentistry—prevention is key. Many children stop the sucking habit on their own, especially if it does not become a battle of wills between parents and child. A conversation with your dentist or physician can assist you in assessing the appropriate timing related to the emotional and physical development of your child.

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Be sure to check back next week for a list of practical tips to help break these sucky habits!

This article orginally appeared in Parenting Today & Tomorrow magazine.


I love it when it is a new year! I love when the sands of time wash away the old year and we embrace the hope and promise of a new year!

For many it’s a time of new beginnings and resolutions. In the past week I have noticed how many times I have said to our friends sitting in my treatment room, “That would be a great New Year’s resolution!” (Bill would be the first to tell you I am great at making resolutions for others!)

One young woman, who we see each year when she returns for her holiday visit to her family, shared that since her visit last year at this time she had not missed one day of flossing!

"After years of sporadic flossing, (at best!) Sharon finally found the key to motivating me. I was concerned about some new staining between my teeth and after she worked so hard to remove it, I asked her the best way to prevent it from coming back. Regular flossing was the answer! I decided to try an experiment: floss every day for a year until my next visit and see if they noticed. I was pleased with how quickly it became a part of my routine. Now I can't think of going to bed until I have both brushed and flossed my teeth. A year later I was rewarded with no staining and my healthiest gums ever. Just ask my dentist!" ~ Jenny E.

Wow! It worked! The habit Jenny began last year had not only the cosmetic effect that was her motivation, but I immediately asked her what she had been doing differently because her gum tissue was in excellent health. Happy dance!!

This week I was reading an installment from one of our dental practice coaches, Kirk Behrendt of Act Dental Coaching, and he gave these statistics:

  • 45% of people make some type of resolution
  • Just 8% of people always succeed at their resolutions
  • 24% of people have never achieved any type of resolution…EVER

In this month’s article Kirk suggests that instead of making resolutions to instead try making commitments. He says, “Resolutions are more about the use of ‘willpower’ and changing the things you don’t like about yourself. Commitments, on the other hand, are appointments with yourself (or others) to hold you truly accountable to a result.”

I really like what Kirk has said, both for myself for this new year, and also as a way to be a ‘coach’ to the people that come to us for better dental health. We believe that becoming healthy is a ‘process’ or ‘journey’ - and one of our foundational practice commitments is to help people attain the level of dental health they desire. When we can share that intention together GREAT things happen! Look at Jenny – what an inspiration! In this coming year we look forward to your appointment with us so we can hear about the ‘appointment you made with yourself’ for your commitment to health and your intentions that have become actions! Perhaps daily flossing?

-- Sharon Kuttler, RDH