Sucking is a natural reflex for babies, and a pacifier is often very soothing to babies. Parents often use a pacifier to calm a baby that is upset and crying, and over time your baby may come to love sucking on a pacifier, even when he isn’t crying. However, it is possible for pacifiers to have an adverse effect on your child’s teeth. Although your child’s baby teeth are just temporary, they’re still very important and influence how their adult teeth will come in later. Here’s a closer look on the effects pacifiers can have on your child’s teeth, how you can avoid dental problems, and tips on how you can phase out the pacifier for good.
Dental Effects of Pacifiers
Pacifiers actually offer some great benefits for babies. They satisfy that natural sucking instinct of babies and provide comfort. Studies have shown that they can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well in babies between 1 and 6 months old. Unfortunately, overuse or long-term use of a pacifier can lead to dental problems. As your child matures and grows, the jaw is beginning to grow around anything that’s held inside of it regularly.
Some of the potential effects overuse of a pacifier can have on your child’s mouth and teeth include:
- Front teeth begin to slant outwards
- Bottom teeth start tilting inwards
- Crooked teeth
- Narrowing of the roof of your child’s mouth
- Misalignment of the jaw, such as an underbite or overbite
Can You Avoid Dental Problems and Still Use a Pacifier?
If you use a pacifier correctly, your child can use it for comfort without developing problems. However, it’s still best to wean your child from the pacifier by the time they are two to prevent negative effects on the teeth. Many parents find it’s best to stop using a pacifier when your child is between 9-12 months old since it’s harder to break the habit once your child can crawl or walk, making it easy for them to search for it themselves.
Limiting pacifier use can help. Consider only offering it during sleeping times. This gives your child comfort, reduces the risk of SIDS, but still limits the risk for dental problems in the future.
How to Phase Out the Pacifier
Phasing out the pacifier is essential for your child’s oral health, but it’s not always easy to do. Here’s a look at a few tips that can help you break this habit.
- Provide a Transitional Object – Many children love their pacifiers because they offer comfort. Offering your child a transitional object that provides comfort and security, such as a cuddly toy or blanket, can help with the transition.
- Use Distractions – When your child wants the pacifier, try using distractions to change his train of thought. Try playing with a favorite toy, reading together, or another favorite activity.
- Give Plenty of Praise – Positive reinforcement can go a long way when you’re trying to phase out a pacifier. Praise your child when they don’t use their pacifier to reinforce the action.
- Soothe Your Child in Other Ways – When your child needs to be soothed, instead of offering the pacifier try comforting your child in other ways like rocking them or singing to them.
- Avoid Negative Reinforcement – If your child does use the pacifier, avoid negative reinforcement. Don’t punish or scold your child, since these methods usually don’t work.
- Rewards – Another form of positive reinforcement is offering rewards when your child chooses not to use a pacifier. Come up with a small reward that they’ll really appreciate.
Pacifiers have their place, and they do offer benefits, but they shouldn’t be used long term. Eventually, they have the potential to result in dental issues for your child, so it’s vital to nix the habit before it begins causing problems. Weaning your child from the pacifier can prevent problems, ensuring your child’s baby teeth develop properly to make way for a healthy set of adult teeth later in life.