Pacifiers help soothe fretful babies, but many parents are concerned about their effects over the long term. Although pacifiers can indeed contribute to tooth decay and affect the growth of children's mouths and teeth, these problems only occur when they're used incorrectly. When it comes to pacifiers and teeth, rest assured your baby can enjoy his pacifier without it interfering with early oral health.
Benefits of a Pacifier
It's natural for infants and toddlers to calm themselves by thumb-sucking, and pacifiers provide a handy comforter. As a matter of fact, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests using a pacifier is preferable to thumb-sucking. Toddlers need to stop excessive sucking to prevent future problems in mouth and teeth development, and it's easier to wean a young child from a pacifier than a thumb-sucking habit. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, infants who use pacifiers are also at a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, and can even experience less discomfort during complex medical procedures.
What They Can Do to Teeth
It's important not to overlook the fact that, if used incorrectly, pacifiers have their downsides. As explained by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, the bacteria that cause tooth decay don't occur naturally in children's mouths; they are passed on by their caregivers. Therefore, putting a pacifier in your mouth before giving it to your baby introduces the possibility of bacteria being exchanged and possibly causing tooth decay. Parents can also end up encouraging tooth decay by dipping the pacifier in a sugary liquid, such as honey or corn syrup, before giving it to their baby. Keep in mind that prolonged use can create crooked teeth, bite problems, upper front teeth that tip forward, changes in jaw alignment and imperfect tooth position, according to the AAPD.
Choosing a Pacifier
The range of pacifiers available in stores can be confusing. There are two kinds of pacifier nipples: orthodontic and non-orthodontic. Orthodontic designs are slim and flat, simulating the shape of the mother's nipple in the baby's mouth, whereas non-orthodontic pacifiers have a round, bulb tip. The University of Rochester Medical Center advises parents to buy one-piece pacifiers with no moving parts, built-in gadgets or liquid interiors. Pacifiers should also have sealed (rather than open) bases, and the nipple should be made of silicon – which harbors fewer germs and is smoother than latex or soft plastic.
How to Use Pacifiers Responsibly
Introduce a pacifier after breastfeeding is established, which is usually three to four weeks following birth. Clean it thoroughly before use and before replacing it in your baby's mouth if he spits it out. As your child develops this soothing habit, consider the following:
- Don't attach a pacifier to anything else using a string, cord, ribbon or other attachment.
- Always use a pacifier that has a shield wider than your baby's mouth.
- Discard pacifiers that have become discolored, cracked, swollen or sticky.
- Never leave your baby unattended with a pacifier in his mouth.
- Talk to your dentist or pediatrician if your baby hasn't given it up by the age of three.
Caring for infant teeth isn't only about correct pacifier use. You should also clean their teeth twice a day teeth using a toothpaste formulated for the under-twos, such as Colgate My First which gently cleans teeth, and start flossing when the teeth are finally touching one another. Being smart about pacifiers and teeth when looking after your infant's oral health leads to a contently growing baby with a beautiful smile.