Babies love their pacifiers, but many parents are rightly concerned that pacifier use can cause dental problems. Unfortunately, the presence of a pacifier can cause developing mouths to grow improperly in some situations, leading to abnormal tooth development and other issues along the way. Fortunately, with proper use, your baby can comfort him- or herself with a pacifier without developing pacifier teeth.
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.
Avoiding Pacifier Teeth
Nevertheless, pacifiers are still beneficial for young babies, and parents can avoid the risk of pacifier teeth by weaning their baby from his pacifier by the age of two. Doctors publishing with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) explain that pacifiers actually have a positive influence on kids between one and six months old. Young babies who use pacifiers have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome, though introducing a pacifier to a baby under one month old can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding. The AAFP also warns that pacifiers increase the risk of ear infections in babies older than six months. By two years of age, some dental effects can be seen, but the greatest changes appear in children older than four years.
Pacifiers or Thumbs
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. To use pacifiers safely, the University of Rochester Medical Center advises parents to use one-piece pacifiers without liquid interiors, gadgets or moving parts, cleaning them regularly and not attaching them by strings to babies' clothes. 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 a toothpaste specially formulated for infants, such as My First Colgate™ Infant and Toddler Toothpaste.
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.