One of the toughest decisions to make as a new parent is whether or not to give your baby a pacifier. A pacifier can help your infant self-soothe, keeping them content and allowing mom and dad to relax. However, long-term pacifier use can also cause a variety of dental issues and lead to what is commonly called “pacifier teeth.” The good news is that you can allow your baby to be comforted by a pacifier while also avoiding the problems it can cause.
Sucking is a natural infant reflex – babies often suck on their fingers or thumb while still in the womb. Sucking on fingers, thumbs, pacifiers, or other objects keeps them feeling secure and happy during difficult times. This includes when separated from parents or caretakers, when in the presence of strangers, or when dealing with an unfamiliar or overwhelming environment. Sucking a thumb, finger, or pacifier is relaxing because it can induce sleep. Infants and toddlers often turn to them during the evening or other times when they are tired.
If you’ve seen a baby contentedly sucking on a pacifier, you’ve more than likely seen their benefits. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) actually recommends pacifier use as preferable to thumb-sucking because:
- Pacifiers provide satisfaction for a newborn’s sucking reflex
- They reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Pacifiers provide pain relief while during routine medical procedures
- Pacifier use results in shorter preemie hospital stays
- Pacifiers are easier to wean from as compared to thumb-sucking
While pacifier use can provide comfort to infants, prolonged pacifier use can cause what is known as “pacifier teeth.” Infants’ jaws and teeth begin forming in the womb and grow continuously throughout childhood. Anything that your baby holds in their mouth or sucks on for long periods of time during this period can affect their oral and dental development negatively. This includes the risk of childhood tooth extraction. The American Dental Association (ADA) and the AAPD state that there are various effects that can be caused by pacifier use, including:
- Changes to the roof of the mouth
- Crooked teeth
- Protruding front teeth (overbite)
- Front teeth not meeting when the mouth is closed
- Issues with jaw and bite alignment
- Future need for braces and teeth extraction
Pacifiers don’t just cause dental issues – they can also be a health risk to infants. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, here are some pacifier safety tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t dip pacifiers in sugar, honey, syrup, or other sweet ingredients, as this can cause cavities (and also lead to a sweet tooth later)
- Don’t pin a pacifier to clothing with ribbon or string
- Rinse pacifiers often throughout the day in clean water.
- Don’t use pacifiers with attached gadgets, liquid interiors, or moving parts
Breaking the Pacifier Habit
As with all good things, eventually, it will be time for your child’s pacifier use to end. For the sake of their teeth, your toddler will have to give up their pacifier. In order to prevent future dental issues, your pediatric dentist will likely recommend that your toddler give up the habit by the age of two, but some maintain that babies should be weaned from pacifiers as early as six months of age in order to reduce the possibility of ear infections.
Are Pacifiers Safe?
Most pediatric dentists agree that short term use of pacifiers to keep your baby feeling calm and secure is perfectly safe. The risk of getting “pacifier teeth” or other mouth or jaw alignment issues only results from prolonged pacifier use. If your infant needs a pacifier to help them fall asleep, or for comfort in unfamiliar surroundings, you don’t need to worry that the use will damage their teeth. As long as you wean them from the habit when your dentist or pediatrician recommends, it won’t harm their beautiful smile at all.
Ponte Vedra Pediatric Dentistry cares about your child’s smile. Whether it’s dental exams, preventative care, or early interceptive orthodontic care, we provide children of all ages with exceptional dental care in a welcoming, gentle environment. Do you have questions about your baby’s dental health care needs? Give us a call today to learn more about the development of your little one’s smile!