Pacifiers are a common item found in every diaper bag. Sucking is a normal instinct for infants and use of a pacifier provides a sense of security and a method of self-relaxation. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, most children will discontinue use of a pacifier on their own between 2 and 4 years of age. Prolonged use of a pacifier can have dental repercussions and should be addressed as early as possible.
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Long-term pacifier use can lead to a variety of complications including tilting in of the bottom teeth and slanting in of the top and front teeth. Narrowing of the roof of the mouth and misalignment of the jaws can also occur. The risk for developing these complications increases greatly if pacifier use is continued after the permanent teeth begin to come in. This usually occurs around 6 years of age.
Colgate lists several precautions that parents should take when using a pacifier with their child. One of the most important aspects of purchasing a pacifier includes ensuring that the item is constructed as one piece. If there are small parts included in the pacifier design these could detach and lead to choking. The website also recommends looking for "orthodontically correct" pacifiers because these may decrease the risk of dental issues. Lastly, Colgate warns against dipping the pacifier in honey or sugar water to calm a fussy baby. Although these methods are commonly used by parents and do tend to have a calming effect, the practice can lead to tooth decay and should be avoided.
Orthodontically Correct Pacifiers
Orthodontically correct pacifiers differ from standard pacifiers in that they are designed specifically for the developing palates and jaws of infants. The nipple of the pacifiers are flattened which mimics the mother's nipple during breastfeeding and allows for proper oral development. There are a variety of pacifer options on the market including various sizes and materials. Nuk pacifiers were developed by orthodontists and provide a ideal option for orthodontically correct products, says Dr. Greene.com.
Thumb-Sucking vs. Pacifiers
Thumb-sucking is also a natural instinct for infants. They use their mouths to become acquainted with their environment and often put fingers, toes and other objects in their mouth to "feel them out". Although natural, thumb-sucking can lead to the same complications as pacifier use if persistent and long-term. Many professionals prefer pacifier use to thumb-sucking because parents can easily control and limit pacifier use. If thumb-sucking lingers, parents can use the same intervention strategies used to break a child from pacifier.
Breaking the Habit
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that most children will discontinue pacifier use between the ages of 2 and 4 without any outside assistance. However, intervention may become necessary if this does not occur. The first strategy that parents and caregivers use to accomplish this, and often the most effective, includes simply explaining to the child the need for letting go of the pacifier to make sure their teeth remain healthy. Children may respond better to this information if delivered by a dentist rather than a parent. Gradually decreasing pacifier use proves another effective strategy. Just like any habit easing away from it proves easier than quitting cold turkey. Rewards and positive reinforcement can also help with the process. If simple intervention strategies do not break the habit, a more intensive strategy in the form of an oral device that prevents use of a pacifier or thumb sucking can be discussed with the child's dentist.