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Her beloved plug is gone. I pulled it from her pursed lips three days after I published “To Plug or Not to Plug.”  That post ignited a debate amongst readers on what age a child should quit using pacifiers. Readers’ shared stories of their children who required therapy from prolonged pacifier (and/or thumb sucking) use, and the costly orthodontic repairs. Her comforting soother morphed into a teething threat.

What ultimately made me radically change my stance, and force her to quit cold turkey, was long-term damage from an open bite.

What is an open bite?

There are a lot of big medical terms that define an open bite. The definition by Dr Nahal Ashouri, DDS, MS was clear and stuck in my mind. She writes, “An open bite is one dental disorder that is more often than not caused by the patient herself. The basic issue is that the front teeth, both upper and lower are forced outwards to an extent that the teeth of the upper and the lower jaw do not touch each other, even when the mouth is closed.”

What stood out in her definition is that an open bite is more often than not caused by the patient herself. That was the moment I realised I was my daughter’s enabler.

Before jumping to conclusions, I phoned my friend who is a dentist. As great friends do, Dr Jeana Conner, DDS, empathized but affirmed my concerns of an open bite. In her soft southern voice she advised, “It is going to be tough on all of you, but it is best for Eloise to stop using a pacifier sooner than later.”

Jeana confirmed the following are among the lasting effects associated with prolonged pacifier (and thumb sucking):

1) Prolonged use can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth.

2) There is an association between pacifier use and acute middle ear infections (otitis media).

“Continuous sucking on a pacifier can cause the auditory tubes to become abnormally open, which allows secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear,” explains AGD spokesperson Maria Smith, DDS. “Transmission of bacteria in secretions would lead to middle ear infections.”  from www.knowyourteeth.com

3) Restless sleep patterns.  This had been the case for almost two years. Ouisie would wake up in the middle of the night looking for her plug. Many nights it required me getting up to locate it or stumbling to the kitchen in the night to find a replacement.

4) The child can develop a lisp as constant thumb sucking/pacifier use can affect the jaw bone positioning.

5) Alterations in the shape of the roof of the mouth.

Detox was going to bite.

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I tossed and turned in bed that night. Hours later, Ouisie crawled in bed with us. The sound of her sucking on the pacifier intensified my fear of aiding in an open bite. It was time to unplug. She would turn four in 10 days. I was determined she would be free of the pacifier before her birthday. In the morning, I pulled it from her lips and declared we were going cold turkey.

Detox ached.

The first night found me holding back tears as I consoled my dismayed daughter. She cried hysterically for hours. She was pissed. Really PISSED. She swore never to sleep again. And then, five hours after starting the bedtime routine, exhaustion won at 1:30AM.  I lay next to her filled with elation and guilt. She slept through the night, me by her side.

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In the morning, she awoke in a flood of tears looking for her plug. On the bedside table was a gift and congratulatory card from the Tooth Fairy.  At first, Ouisie felt proud, but that quickly changed to animosity towards the purveyor of teeth. Creative editing twists and convincing eventually got the Tooth Fairy off the hit list.

The second night she cried a little less. And by the fourth night, she went to bed without asking for the pacifier. During the first month, there were days she asked when the pacifier was coming back.  After a round of booster shots this week she let me know I was wrong for taking her pacifiers away. She really hates shots. She got the anger off her chest, and we moved on.

I rank ridding of the pacifier up there with potty training and weaning her of breast feeding.  It is hard going, but victory is sweet.

And so, Chef and I are proud to announce: Ouisie is unplugged!