Pacifiers are a subject that causes many parents to be on the defensive, but the reality is that sucking is a natural reflex for babies. Infants start sucking their thumbs while still in the womb and the action continues to soothe them once they’re born. Sucking on a thumb or pacifier comforts them in times of stress and relaxes them when they’re trying to fall asleep. In other words, the use of a pacifier is perfectly natural, healthy, and not anything to feel on the defense about when talking to a dentist. The key is to be sure you’re using your baby’s pacifier appropriately. Here are the facts.
Pacifiers Can Impact Teeth––But Maybe Not as Much as We Thought
Many of those who tsk-tsk pacifier use believe that they cause cavities, crooked teeth, and even receded gums in children. Parents whose babies use pacifiers may believe this too, and feel guilty over the habit, even going so far as to tell white lies about it during dental exams.
The truth is, pacifiers––and thumb sucking for that matter––do impact dentition. The good news is that most studies have concluded that these problems only occur with prolonged use after the age of 5 or when parents dip pacifiers in sugar, juice, honey, or other sweeteners. While openbites, overbites, and crossbites are associated with pacifier use, these risks increase with age. In other words, a baby using a pacifier is very unlikely to cause occlusion problems.
How to Use a Pacifier Appropriately
Pacifiers soothe babies when they’re upset and relax them when they’re falling asleep. There’s even an association between pacifier use and a decreased risk of SIDS. A pacifier habit is much easier to break, and much less harmful to the teeth, than thumb sucking, so there’s no reason to feel bad about choosing to give a pacifier to your baby. That said, here are some guidelines to follow to minimize potential harm to the teeth.
- Choose an orthodontic pacifier that’s made without PVC or BPA.
- Weaning should be an ongoing process. By this, we mean that as your baby gets older, gradually decrease the amount of time spent with the pacifier. After the baby’s first 6 months, give the pacifier only when they’re falling asleep, then only at nighttime. This will make it easier for your child to give up the pacifier when it’s time.
- Never sweeten your baby’s pacifier. The calming action of sucking is reward enough for them; there’s no reason to incentivize them with sugar for an action that is instinctive and reflexive.
- Pacifier use should be stopped by age 4, but ideally by age 2; however, keep in mind that if you can break the habit at a younger age, it will be easier.
- Do not clean your child’s pacifier with your own saliva. It can transmit cavity-causing bacteria.
- Find other ways to soothe your baby, like swaddling, singing, rocking, and massage, to make the weaning process go more smoothly.