Easing the letting go -- Book encourages kids to send pacifiers packing
By Mary Ethridge
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Life, as any adult has learned, is a series of sacrifices made for the future good. But try explaining that to a 4-year-old who clings to a pacifier with astounding ferocity. This rite of passage -- the letting go of Binky, passy or whatever other name you give it -- is marked by screams, wails and pleas from kids and grown-ups alike. It's a painful process, but nearly as agonizing as the dental and facial problems that can result with long-term use.
This past winter, Laurie Saponari, an Akron, Ohio, mother of two, started a company, Binkyland LLC, whose products she hopes will ease the letting go for everyone. With the help of friends and family, she's created a book that encourages kids to send their pacifiers to a magical kingdom called Binkyland.
The book comes with an envelope to use to mail the pacifier to Binkyland where, as the book explains, it is transformed into anything the child wishes it to be. The child then receives a certificate for being a hero of Binkyland.
"The Story of Binkyland" was written by Saponari's brother, Canton, Ohio, businessman Bill Post, and illustrated in watercolors. It retails for $10.95.
Saponari believes her experience as a mother to 19-year-old Sarah and 9-year-old Dominique is qualification enough to conceive of the product and make it fly.
"I've been through it. I know how hard it is and what parents are going through," said Saponari, whose daughter Dominique developed several dental problems from using a pacifier until age six. "This is personal to me. It addresses a huge problem many, many parents experience."
Pacifier use beyond the age of 2, which is quite common, can and usually does cause major problems, said John Warren, associate professor at the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa.
Warren recently completed a study on pacifier use and found that only half of the children who use pacifiers have given them up by 26 to 28 months the outside age that pacifiers can be safely used. Giving it up after the child is 12 months is even better, experts say.
About 10 percent of pacifier users were still sucking away on them after age 4, according to the study. That's long enough to do some serious damage to teeth and jaws, Warren said. Pacifier use has also been associated with an increased risk of ear infections and early rejection of breast feeding, but thumb sucking has not.
"Prior to a year of age, it's perfectly natural for a child to suck to comfort themselves and a pacifier is fine. After a year they have other means to do that," Warren said. "The longer you go with a pacifier, the bigger chance you have of serious problems."
Among those problems are an open bite where a large space develops between the front and back teeth when clenched and a narrow upper arch.
Saponari's daughter Dominique had sucked her pacifier so long and vigorously she actually had a nipple-shaped gap in her front teeth. By the time Saponari realized there was a medical problem, Dominique was almost 6. The Saponaris took the pacifier away with the simple explanation that she was "too big" to use one. The child screamed and cried for days and days, Saponari said. "It was awful for all of us."
Unbeknownst to her parents, Dominique had hidden a stray pacifier in her room and took it out after her parents put her to bed. It was several weeks before the Saponaris discovered the stash.
When Dominique was almost 7, the Saponaris took to a dental clinic where she was fitted with a palate expander she still wears, as well as a mask to realign her jaw.
"It was thousands and thousands of dollars and terrible pain all because of the pacifier," Saponari said. "I'd like to save other parents and kids the money and the ordeal."
Warren said sucking a digit causes fewer problems than pacifiers but is, of course, harder to get rid of because the child comes with it. "It's not like you can put it away somewhere," he said.
There's really not much to do for thumb-sucking but to discourage the behavior. If it doesn't work, drop it until a month or two later and try again, he said.
Although a pacifier -- unlike a thumb -- can be thrown out or hidden, a sudden disappearance with little explanation is certain to be traumatic. Parents will try just about anything to calm their child during the time, he said.
One method, proposed by one of Warren's colleagues at the dental school, is to have a funeral for the pacifier and bury it in the backyard like a family goldfish. However, the child could always dig it up, he said.
Because pacifier use after the age of 12 months is psychological, a behavior modification product such as Saponari's makes sense, he said.
"It's best to convince the child that giving up the pacifier is a good thing to do," Warren said.