Whether or not to give your baby a pacifier is one of the many tough decisions you have to make as a parent. Pacifiers can help babies self-soothe, which can keep your baby content and allow you to stay more relaxed. On the other hand, prolonged pacifier use can cause dental issues and lead to what is known as pacifier teeth. The good news is that it’s possible to give your baby a pacifier yet avoid the problems it can cause.
Benefits of Pacifiers
Anyone who’s seen a young baby contentedly sucking on a pacifier doesn’t doubt the benefits of their use, and the medical profession agrees. Pediatric research shows that pacifier use in very young babies shouldn’t be discouraged, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises that it’s preferable to thumb-sucking. Some of the benefits include:
- Pain relief while undergoing common medical procedures
- Shorter hospital stays for preemies
- Reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome
- Satisfaction of the sucking reflex in newborns
- An easier time weaning (in comparison to thumb sucking) when the time comes
What Are Pacifier Teeth?
Pacifier teeth can occur as a result of prolonged pacifier use. Babies’ mouths and teeth form in the womb and continue to grow throughout childhood. Anything held in an infant’s or toddler’s mouth for long periods during this important time can affect dental and oral development. According to the AAPD and American Dental Association, some dental effects of using pacifiers include:
- Crooked teeth
- Problems with bite and jaw alignment (for example, the front teeth may not meet when the mouth is closed)
- Protruding front teeth
- Changes tothe roof of the mouth
How to Use Pacifiers Safely
As well as causing dental problems, pacifiers present an accident risk to young babies. The University of Rochester Medical Center provides some handy tips on how to keep your baby safe:
- Rinse the pacifier regularly in clean water.
- Don’t use pacifiers with moving parts, liquid interiors or gadgets.
- Don’t attach a pacifier to your baby’s clothes with string or ribbon.
- Don’t dip pacifiers in sweet liquids like honey or syrup before giving them to your baby, as this can cause cavities.
When to Break the Pacifier Habit
All good things must come to an end, and eventually your toddler must give up his pacifier for the sake of his or her teeth. To prevent dental issues, a good rule of thumb is to prepare your little one to say goodbye to the pacifier by the age of two. However, some pediatricians recommend reducing or stopping pacifier use as early as six months to reduce the risk of ear infection. Always talk to your dentist and pediatrician about what’s best for your child.
Remember, pacifier teeth are the result of using pacifiers for too long. If your baby needs a pacifier for comfort or to help him sleep, try not to worry that it’s damaging his teeth. When he’s old enough, you can gently wean him off his pacifier, and it won’t harm his beautiful smile.