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Pacifier use may lower risk of SIDS

The use of pacifiers may lower a baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome, new research suggests.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California evaluated 185 mothers who had just lost their infants to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, and another 312 mothers with healthy babies.

Dr. De-Kun Li and a team of scientists, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, found that pacifier use reduced the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by 90 percent.

Why? There are several possible explanations, said Dr. Li.

First, sucking enhances alertness, which is regulated by a brain center that does not function properly in otherwise healthy infants who suddenly stop breathing. However, if this were the only explanation, thumbsucking would offer the same protection, which isn't true.

Instead, Dr. Li believes the pacifier serves as a mechanical barrier that "stops suffocation," he said.

"It is more mechanical and physical, rather than biological," said Dr. Li, noting that the pacifier is a barrier between a baby's mouth and anything that could block the baby’s airway, such as soft bedding.

His research backs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations that pacifiers be used at nap and bedtimes in the first year of life.

"Back To Sleep," a successful 10-year-old AAP public health campaign that urges parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, has cut the SIDS rate in half. More than 2,200 babies were diagnosed at death with SIDS in 2002. Before that, it was estimated that 5,000 babies a year died of SIDS.

Pacifier use and thumbsucking are concerns for dentists because they can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth or changes in the roof of the mouth. The level of damage to a child's mouth depends on the intensity of the sucking.

Generally, dentists say that pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers or thumbs; however, pacifier use is an easier habit to break.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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