New research shows that pacifiers and oral health risks are indeed linked, although the results are somewhat inconsistent. In terms of oral health, the risk appears to increase the longer a child uses a pacifier. Although the severity of potential damage can vary, most oral health experts believe that pacifier use should be discontinued as early as possible to prevent negative oral health consequences.
Dental Dangers and Pacifiers
Parents of newborns and infants understand the value of pacifiers to help soothe a fussy baby. Most experts agree that they are more helpful than harmful, as long as they are not too often or for an extended period of time. One of the most common problems that can develop as a result of pacifier use is known as an anterior open bite, wherein the back teeth touch but the front teeth do not, due to misalignment.
Another frequent complication is known as a posterior crossbite, which causes upper back teeth to tuck inside the lower back teeth. This is the result of ongoing pressure that results when a child sucks on a pacifier over long periods of time. In addition to these and other misalignment factors, pacifiers increase the incidence of tooth decay, mouth sores and ulcers.
Critical Age Considerations
Different dental problems can arise at different ages of pacifier use. Malocclusion, a term used to describe the general misalignment between the top and bottom teeth, significantly increases after two to three years of pacifier use. Pacifier use prior to age 2 can result in malocclusion as well, but it is often less severe and more treatable. Oral health experts recommend that pacifier use concludes by age 2, if possible. The older the child, the greater the risk of complications and the more severe the damage may be.
Tips for Minimizing Pacifier Damage
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend several steps to minimize pacifiers’ damage. First, don’t use one as a first line of defense to calm a fussy baby. Instead, try singing, rocking, massage or soft music first. Don’t offer a pacifier automatically, especially if your baby is not particularly interested in it, or pop it back in baby’s mouth if it falls out during sleep.
Use a one-piece, dishwasher safe silicone pacifier, because these are the easiest to keep clean and sterile. To sterilize, boil the pacifier and then run it through the dishwasher. Don’t use your own saliva to clean pacifiers and never coat them with a sugary substance. Help wean an older child by substituting a toy or beloved blanket, or hold a special ceremony to celebrate your child’s letting go.
If you suspect your child may have developed oral or tooth-related problems due to pacifier use, contact Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah. With offices in Tooele, South Jordan and Cottonwood Heights, they will evaluate your child’s oral health and discuss your concerns about pacifiers and oral health risks.