After all the sleepless nights since you brought your little bundle of joy home from the hospital, there's no doubt that part of your family's bedtime routine involved a binky—a fun nickname for a pacifier. Now that your little one is a toddler, your pediatric dentist is telling you that your child's bedtime habits need to change or there could be permanent damage to his or her teeth. Oh, joy!
Now what? You know your toddler is extremely attached to his or her binky, which means you may have a battle on your hands. Here are a few tips that may help you get your toddler off to slumber land without a binky and keep him or her sleeping peacefully through the night.
Be Gone, Teeth Damagers!
Binkies are not recommended for use by toddlers and older children because they can damage the teeth and cause speech problems. Using them can lead to incorrect bite which may make your toddler's teeth grow in crooked. Your child may be at risk for needing braces later in life. Speech may be delayed in a child who frequently has a binky in his or her mouth.
Do not replace the binky with a bottle or a sippy cup. Formula, milk and juice can cause your child's teeth to decay rapidly with what is called baby bottle mouth syndrome. It's best to avoid binkies, bottles and sippy cups altogether. This means your toddler will need to develop other self-soothing techniques to help them fall asleep.
One Sheep, Two Sheep, Three Sheep… Zzzzz…
Toddlers and babies are fully able to self-soothe themselves to sleep, but not by counting sheep like their parents may do. However, some of the natural self-soothing techniques during these years can be quite alarming to parents, such as when a toddler rocks back and forth or bangs their head on hard objects like the wall beside their bed. Other self-soothing techniques that don't seem as weird may involve rubbing their arm or twirling their hair.
Regardless of which self-soothing method your child attempts naturally, it's a good idea to speak with your pediatrician if you feel your child is at risk of self-harm. However, natural instinct will likely kick in before your child will be able to injure himself.
You can help your child self-soothe to sleep by transitioning slowly from playtime to bedtime. That way, he or she will be able to wind down and get used to the idea that it's time to remain still and sleep for a bit. You cannot reasonably expect your child to fall asleep 30 minutes after leaving the playground. He or she may fall asleep, but will probably not stay asleep throughout the night.
Sleeping Like a Baby? Think Again
Once your toddler has settled in and fallen asleep, is he or she getting restful sleep? Even though you've taken away his or her binky, there may still be a risk of damage to their teeth. Research shows that as many as 38% of children between the ages of 3 ½ and 6 years grind their teeth while they sleep. This is a symptom of parasomnia, which is a disorder that interrupts sleep. Some parasomnia symptoms may be related to mental health conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children who grind their teeth while they sleep are susceptible to the same types of problems as adults who grind their teeth, including headaches, jaw pain and dull teeth. Sometimes, the grinding can be extreme enough to crack the teeth.
It might be hard to figure out if your toddler is grinding his or her teeth or making chewing/sucking movements as if they still had a binky. The best thing to do to figure out if your toddler grinds his or her teeth is to ask the pediatric dentist if there are signs of teeth grinding. If there are signs, the pediatric dentist can fit your child with a mouth guard to wear at night.