Should your Child Use a Pacifier?

The effects a pacifier has on your child’s teeth

Like many parents, you may be concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, finger sucking or pacifier use. You may wonder if it is harmful, at what age it should stop or what could happen if your child does not stop. You can rest assured that sucking is one of an infant’s natural reflexes.

They begin to suck on their thumbs or other fingers while they are in the womb. Infants and young children may suck on thumbs, other fingers, pacifiers or other objects. It makes them feel secure and happy, and it helps them learn about their world.

Placing a thumb or another finger in the mouth provides some children with a sense of security during difficult periods, such as when they are separated from their parents, surrounded by strangers or in an unfamiliar environment. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it also may help induce sleep. For this reason, young children may suck their thumbs in the evening or at other times when they are tired.

Contrary to popular belief, there are some positive effects that result from sucking on pacifiers; one is that they assist in reducing the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Babies who are offered a pacifier do not sleep as deeply as those who sleep without a pacifier. Pacifier sucking makes it possible for the infant to be aroused from a deep sleep that could result in the stopping of breathing. Pacifiers also increase sucking satisfaction and provide a source of comfort to infants.”

Unfortunately, however, the presence of a pacifier or sucking a thumb can cause developing mouths to grow improperly in some situations, leading to abnormal tooth development, speech problems and other issues along the way.

Effects of Pacifiers

The long-term use of a pacifier influences the shape of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth because as babies and toddlers mature physically, their jaws grow around anything held inside on a repeat basis. In fact, overusing pacifiers affects mouth and teeth development in the same way as long-term thumb-sucking, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). As the child’s upper front teeth tip forward, teeth may become crooked, and he or she can experience bite problems. There may also be changes in tooth position and jaw alignment. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests other symptoms of pacifier teeth include the front teeth not meeting when the mouth is closed, and changes on the roof of the mouth.

To avoid issues with developing teeth, it is suggested that children should stop using a pacifier or suck a thumb by age 2.
There is also 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, transmission of bacteria in secretions would lead to middle ear infections.

The bottom line is that if your child is continuously battling middle ear infections, you may have an alternative to surgery or antibiotics to stop this problem, which would be to remove the pacifier.

Pacifier vs Thumb

Thumb-sucking might seem like a natural, safer alternative to pacifiers, but for a few important reasons, the AAPD recommends pacifiers over thumbs. Infants naturally love to suck, and many self-soothe by sucking their thumbs. But when the time comes to discourage the habit to avoid dental problems, it’s much easier to control pacifier use than it is to prevent thumb-sucking. It is important to clean the pacifier regularly, and you should also avoid dipping pacifiers in sweet liquids, which can cause tooth decay.

Breaking the Habit

Encouragement and praise are the best tools for breaking a pacifier habit. Praise your baby or toddler when he doesn’t use a pacifier, and provide a reward such as a star chart or a tooth-friendly prize for each night that goes by pacifier-free.

If he tends to use the pacifier when anxious, avoid stressful situations as much as possible in the process of giving it up, and offer plenty of cuddles and other comforts. More importantly, don’t punish or scold your child for using a pacifier; this may encourage him to use it more to cope with the reprimand. Continue to care for your baby’s teeth as normal, cleaning them twice a day using toothpaste specially formulated for infants.

For young babies who need that little extra soothing, pacifiers provide the perfect comfort and reassurance. Provided pacifier use doesn’t go on too long, rest assured there’s no risk of developing pacifier teeth. You can let your baby enjoy his pacifier for a nice bit of time with a clear conscience.

As the old saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and prevention is always better than cure, for all your child’s dental needs visit Corne Smith Dentistry in Claremont, Cape Town.