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What Are Pacifier Teeth? Risks to Your Baby, Causes and Treatments

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pacifier teeth
Find out about pacifier teeth

Pacifiers are great for, well, pacifying children, but prolonged or excessive use may result in the development of pacifier teeth. This condition can have a negative impact on the function of your child's baby teeth, as well as on the overall oral health of your child.

That's why in this article, we'll answer the following questions:

  • What are pacifier teeth?
  • Are they reversible?
  • Should you be giving a pacifier to your newborn?

Keep reading to get answers to all of these questions and make smart decisions when it comes to using pacifiers for your little ones.

What are pacifier teeth?

Parents have been relying on newborn pacifiers to calm their kids for a long time. Also known as ‘soothers', ‘binkys', ‘Dodies', or ‘teethers', these pacifiers are silicone or plastic nipples that are given to an infant to suck on. But are pacifiers really a good idea? Some experts say no, the primary reason for that being pacifier teeth.

Pacifier teeth refers to a condition that occurs from the prolonged use of pacifiers. The mouth and teeth of a baby start developing in the womb and continue to develop and grow throughout their childhood. During this period, anything kept in a baby's mouth can negatively affect their oral and dental development.

Why are pacifier teeth such a big deal?

Just like babies sucking their thumbs can lead to oral problems, pacifiers could also end up harming their mouths more than benefitting them. As per the American Dental Association, using pacifiers can lead to a handful of side effects that include:

  • Crooked or crowded teeth
  • Jaw misalignment
  • Problems with biting
  • Protrusion of the tongue
  • Changes in the roof of the mouth
  • Change in the position of teeth

In other words, using a newborn pacifier has multiple potential side effects for a baby's teeth. Sometimes, pacifiers may even necessitate the use of braces in the future.

This raises important questions for many parents to consider: Why use a pacifier at all? Should I use one with my baby? Let's find out.

Pros and cons of using pacifiers

Despite what most people believe about pacifiers, it is important that you make your own decision. To do this, it can help to familiarize yourself with the common advantages and disadvantages of these soothing tools.

The pros

For many parents with a newborn or an infant at home, pacifiers can be a favorite go-to accessory. Pacifiers successfully help countless adults calm distressed children.

There are also some indications that pacifiers can be good for babies. Many rely on this tool to calm their children and let them go to sleep peacefully. In fact, up to 75 percent of the babies in the West are said to use pacifiers at some point in their lives.

Despite a high risk of pacifier teeth damage, these tools are a key to contentment for many babies between mealtimes. Consider the following advantages of using a pacifier in children.

  • A pacifier calms a fussy baby.
  • A pacifier acts as a temporary distraction.
  • A pacifier can distract a child after a painful procedure such as a blood test or vaccine shots.
  • A pacifier helps your child fall asleep.
  • A pacifier makes airplane travel easier for babies.
  • Pacifiers are disposable, babies sucking fingers have a harder time stopping because you can't get rid of a finger!

In addition to these benefits, some studies also suggest that a pacifier used before falling asleep reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If you are still breastfeeding your baby but want them to use pacifiers for prevention, wait until the baby is at least 4 weeks old. Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is the most common cause of fatalities in babies between the ages of 1 month to 1 year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS even after the pacifier falls out of the baby's mouth once they fall asleep.

Have a look at the top eight Do's and Don'ts of pacifier use:

The cons

Despite some very useful advantages associated with pacifier use, they still have certain disadvantages. These disadvantages are mentioned below and should be considered while deciding whether you want your child to use a pacifier or not.

  • Using pacifiers may affect breastfeeding.
  • A pacifier may create dependency.
  • A pacifier may cause ear infections.
  • A pacifier may cause dental problems like pacifier teeth and misaligned teeth, which could later lead to braces.

Mentioned below are the benefits and risks of using a pacifier in children of different age groups, according to this study.

Age Potential benefits Potential complications
Preterm infants Pain relief, decreased hospital stay, improved bottle feeding performance None
Up to 6 months Pain relief, reduced risk of SIDS Early breast weaning
6 months–2 years None Ear infection
2+ years None Dental malocclusion

Pacifiers and emotional comfort

Many experts ask parents to break the pacifier habit as sooner rather than later. This is because, besides oral health issues, it can become a source of emotional comfort in many children.

If your baby has gone through the reflexive sucking stage of using a pacifier and still refuses to leave it (after age 6 months to 1 year), chances are they have developed an emotional attachment to it. In these circumstances, breaking the pacifier habit can be quite difficult.

Child sleeping with a pacifier in mouth
Pacifiers are great for baby's emotional support, but they should be stopped completely at 2 years of age

If your child has already found emotional comfort in a pacifier, do not worry. It is never too late to make things right. There are many online resources that can help break the habit of finding comfort in a pacifier.

Stopping pacifier use

Does your baby use a pacifier too much? Are you afraid they are going to develop pacifier teeth? There are certain ways to get rid of the pacifier habit. Some of these tips are mentioned below.

  • Gradually limit pacifier use (only in the house, only in the crib. etc.)
  • For toddlers, offer a special toy or prize in exchange for the pacifier.
  • Provide another source of comfort like a blanket or stuffed animal.
  • Try the ‘cold turkey' approach and immediately take it away, but use positive reinforcement.
  • Make sure all of Baby's caregivers are on board with the weaning plan.
  • Be prepared for tears, but remember that giving the pacifier back after crying will reinforce to the child that the reward for crying is the pacifier.
Child sucking a pacifier
A pacifier is not inherently bad, but its prolonged use can lead to oral health problems.

The most suitable time to stop pacifier use in children to avoid pacifier teeth can be determined with the help of a doctor. In most cases, parents tend to break the habit between 6 months to 1 year of age. The use of a pacifier is discouraged in children above the age of 4 years.

Conclusion

Pacifiers are a great way to calm a crying baby, but there is a proper place and time to use them before they become more harmful than useful. In addition to learning about the pros and cons, it's not a bad idea to speak with a dentist about your concerns. Remember, pacifiers can lead to several problems like the development of pacifier teeth which can only be reversed with proper medical care.

The dentist can keep an eye on the dental health of your child as they grow, and make sure that they can use pacifiers without developing pacifier teeth.

FAQs

Will pacifier teeth correct themselves?

The simple answer is no. Once your baby has developed pacifier teeth, there is no way to correct themselves naturally. Almost every case requires proper intervention and correction, which is why prevention is the best cure in this scenario.

Is it okay for my baby to have a pacifier during sleep?

Even if your baby is not crying, using a pacifier can help them go to sleep faster, which ultimately means more sleep for the parent too. However, this practice can sometimes be dangerous due to the risk of accidental swallowing and choking. So, be extremely cautious if you are giving your baby a pacifier at night.

What questions should I ask my doctor regarding pacifiers?

Following are some of the questions you should ask your doctor regarding pacifiers:

  • Will my baby get a pacifier from the hospital when they are born?
  • Are hospital pacifiers safe?
  • Is the plastic used to make the pacifier toxic?
  • Is it unkind to let the baby cry while weaning them from pacifiers?

 Should I coat the pacifier with candy?

Absolutely not. Just think about it: You are giving your little one something covered in sugar and allowing them to suck on it for a long duration of time. This can lead to tooth decay, which is something parents and babies certainly don't want or need. So avoid coating it with anything and never force your child to use it when they don't want to.

When should children stop using a pacifier?

According to both AADP and ADA, the use of pacifier must be actively discouraged in children as soon as they reach the age of 4 years, if not sooner.

How often should you replace a pacifier?

While there is no fixed answer to this question, it is generally advised to check the pacifier before giving it to your baby every time. It must be thrown away as soon as you detect the first signs of weakness or damage. As a rule of thumb, most experts advise changing the pacifier every two months in order to maintain good hygiene.

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Contributors:
Dr. Junaid Tariq
Dr. Junaid Tariq
Dr. Junaid Tariq is a professional content creator and copywriter. The meticulous nature of his MBBS degree proved invaluable in sculpting his research skills and honing his writing efficiency. In addition to working as a content creator, Dr. Tariq continues to fulfill his duties as a medical doctor at a local hospital and has acquired hands-on experience in both acute and chronic patient care. From white papers to blogs, Dr. Tariq writes everything, simplifying complex scientific concepts into basic terms to create something easily accessible and readable for the majority.
You can follow him on his blog: https://themedchronicles.com/
Sources
American family physician: Risks and benefits of pacifiers. Consulted 5 March 2020. Journal of pediatric nursing: A comprehensive review of evidence and current recommendations related to pacifier usage.  Consulted 5 March 2020. University of Rochester, Medical Center: How to use a pacifier. Consulted 5 March 2020. Pediatrics journal: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Consulted 5 March 2020. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health: Dummy (pacifier) use and sudden infant death syndrome: Potential advantages and disadvantages. Consulted 5 March 2020. American Dental Association: Thumb sucking and pacifier use. Consulted 5 March 2020. NCBI: Pacifiers (soothers): A user's guide for parents. Consulted 20 March 2020. Parenting.nytimes.com: How to Ditch the Pacifier. Consulted 20 March 2020.
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