Pacifiers can help your infant learn to self-soothe by pacifying their instinct to suckle. While many parents never leave home without packing a binkie, you don’t want your little one to rely on a pacifier for too long. Prolonged use of a pacifier and other sucking behaviors can lead to dental problems that can affect your baby’s oral development. Here’s what your pediatric dentist wants you to know about the potential risks of pacifiers.
Pacifiers and Thumbsucking
Thumbsucking and pacifiers are common ways for babies to learn how to self-soothe. They can also help in weaning and reducing the risk of SIDS. Research has also found self-soothing can ease discomfort in nursing preemies.
While they have their benefits, there are many drawbacks to sucking behaviors. Several oral health issues can arise if your child uses the methods for too long, which can include:
- Misaligned Bite: Pacifiers are a common culprit of crossbites, open bites, and other malocclusion issues that can affect the way your child’s upper and lower teeth rest. The sucking motion can cause their teeth to move and even change the shape of their mouth. According to a 2001 study, 71% of children who used a pacifier or sucked their thumb over the age of 4 had bite problems. Only 14% of children who stopped the self-soothing techniques before 24 months had bite concerns.
- Gingival Recession and Decay: Some parents dip pacifiers in sweet substances to make them more appealing. However, this exposes their teeth and gums to sugar, which can cause plaque buildup and feed cavity-causing bacteria.
When to Break the Habit
Dental professionals recommend discontinuing pacifiers and discouraging thumbsucking about 24 months of age to avoid oral issues. Some physicians recommend reducing the use of pacifiers when a baby’s teeth erupt between the ages of 6 to 12 months. If a child doesn’t stop the habit before the age of 4, they have a higher risk of preventable dental issues.
Prolonged sucking habits can require your child to need dental work to fix their bite, like orthodontics. With no intervention, a poor bite can affect their dental health, speech, and oral functions. In some cases, it can even contribute to sleep apnea and other issues.
If your little one is under the age of 2, there’s no need to toss out all of their binkies just yet. Instead, begin to wean them off of pacifiers. By the time they are 3 or 4, they should not use a pacifier or suck their thumb at all.
Your child should see their dentist every 6 months by their first birthday. Their pediatric dentist will monitor their developing smile and provide the tips you need to nurture their oral health.
About Dr. Sean Hrinda
Dr. Hrinda earned his dental degree at Tufts University and has regularly continued his education in many specialties, including family dentistry. As a father, he understands the importance of compassionate care for young children. If you have concerns about your child’s oral habits, request an appointment through our website or call (413) 772-0842.