Dental health is important as soon as your infant starts teething, and it’s important to help take care of their teeth to prevent cavities, tooth decay, and other problems.
Many young children rely on pacifiers, which provide oral stimulation and have a calming effect for them. Many parents are concerned about whether pacifiers might cause dental problems.
Sucking on pacifiers and other materials is very normal for young infants and toddlers, but as they get older, prolonged or frequent pacifier usage can actually be bad for their teeth.
Pacifiers and Your Child’s Teeth
Sucking is a natural reflex for babies, and pacifiers can often calm them. During the first few years of your child’s life, sucking on pacifiers and baby bottles probably won’t hurt their teeth too much. In fact, the benefits of the pacifier’s calming effect probably outweighs the negatives. But when a child uses a pacifier for too long, past about age two or so, it can start causing oral health problems. This is especially true if pacifier use continues after a child starts losing their permanent teeth.
Some of the problems that prolonged pacifier usage can cause include:
- Misaligned upper incisors (top front teeth) that slant outward
- Lower incisors that tilt inward
- Jaw misalignment
- Narrow roof of mouth
- Increased risk of ear infections
These are potentially serious orthodontic problems that are difficult and expensive to correct. Preventing your child from using their pacifier for too long can help avoid the need for extensive orthodontic work later in life, like braces and palatal expanders.
Reducing Risk in Children Who Use Pacifiers
These tips can help you reduce the risk of injury, tooth decay, and other problems in very young children who use a pacifier.
- Buy pacifiers that are only one piece. The fewer things it has that could break off, the lower your child’s risk of choking will be.
- Don’t let your child continually walk around with a baby bottle or a sippy cup. Children are likely to treat these items like a pacifier, and sucking on them could harm their teeth.
- Don’t breastfeed for too long. The duration of breastfeeding is something that’s very personally and culturally variable, and it’s not always uncommon for children to continue breastfeeding past the point where it stops being nutritionally necessary. However, prolonged breastfeeding can actually increase their risk of early childhood tooth decay.
- Wipe their gums and teeth. Whether you’re breastfeeding or using a baby bottle, you should wipe your infant’s teeth and gums every day to remove debris that could lead to plaque.
- Make sure your local water contains fluoride. Fluoride water treatment helps prevent tooth decay, especially in lower income areas where children might not have good access to dental care. If your water isn’t fluoridated, ask your dentist about ways to ensure that your child gets enough fluoride treatment.
- Restrict the times your child uses their pacifier. Try to keep pacifier usage confined to the time before your child goes to sleep at night.
- Use positive reinforcement to break the pacifier habit. Older children need to eventually wean themselves off of the pacifier habit. This isn’t always easy, but positive reinforcement can help you discourage them from using it.
- Or, make pacifier use uncomfortable. You can also discourage your preschooler’s pacifier use by dipping the tip in white vinegar. It’s completely harmless, but it doesn’t taste good.
- Going cold turkey is also an option. It takes some fortitude, but you can also force your child to go “cold turkey,” and just put up with the tantrums and complaints.
Pacifiers are Fine, in Moderation, for Infants & Toddlers
Pacifiers aren’t automatically going to ruin your child’s teeth. For infants and young toddlers under the age of two, pacifier use is normal. However, when usage is too frequent or continues after this age, it can cause lifelong dental problems. For that reason, pacifier usage should be discontinued as your child gets older.