How Pacifiers Affect Babies’ Teeth: Facts vs. Myths

Tired parents of active babies know that pacifiers can be a total life-saver.

The sucking motion that pacifiers encourage is one of the primary ways that babies self-soothe, so having one on hand to help keep baby calm can be helpful in a lot of situations.

There’s a flip side to pacifiers that leaves a lot of parents concerned, however – not all models are great for baby’s dental health, and long term use can be problematic.

It’s not a black and white issue, however, and knowing the facts can go a long way toward preserving both your baby’s dental health and your peace of mind.

Pacifier Upsides

Giving babies opportunities to self soothe is tremendously helpful to parents. As much as we love our babies, holding them every moment of the day isn’t good for them or for us. When babies use pacifiers to comfort themselves when they’re feeling fussy, parents have a little more time to accomplish things with free hands.

Pacifiers aren’t just a convenient source of soothing stimulus for baby, there’s also evidence that they can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, in babies who are between the ages of 6 and 12 months. When benefits like that, it’s not surprising that they’re a ubiquitous piece of baby gear.

Pacifier Downsides (and How to Avoid Them: the Facts

While they do make life easier, there’s safety info parents should be aware of when it comes to pacifiers effect on teeth. Knowing what materials and behaviors can be harmful helps parents to make sure they’re using the best models and best practices, reducing the majority of the risk of pacifier use.

Wondering what can make this classic childhood soother problematic? The answer is simple: allowing children to use their pacifier too frequently or grow too old without taking it away. Because pacifiers are often one of their first security objects, they’re something that some kids gravitate to in excess and aren’t ready to give up without a fight. However, overuse of pacifiers and use beyond 9 – 12 months can cause orthodontic issues like crooked teeth, misaligned jaw, front tooth separation and others.

While those are serious issues, they’re also preventable issues. Wondering how to make sure your baby’s pacifier use doesn’t become problematic?

  • Don’t let them over-rely: This isn’t all on the kiddos, parents. If we pop the pacifier in every time they start to whine, it’s what they’ll always be reaching for. Teaching kids other methods of self-soothing and coping as soon as their most basic attempts at language begin will prepare them to put their pacifier down when age demands it.
  • Stick with orthodontist-recommended picks:  While pacifiers aren’t a favorite of some dentists and orthodontists, they’re still a perfectly reasonable childhood soother when used properly. Orthodontist-approved pacifier picks go the extra mile in making sure that their dental health will be preserved.
  • Don’t wait too long to start phasing it out:  If kids reach one year and they’re still obsessing over their pacifier, you’re in the danger zone. Starting about three months before their first birthday, make their pacifier less available in favor of some other age-appropriate methods of self-soothing and coping. For many kids, it will quickly become the less interesting option.

What Makes a Healthy Pacifier

If you’re like most parents, knowing the hard facts about pacifiers will go a long way in easing any concerns you have about their use. However, you may still be wondering what qualities to look for in a soother in order to make sure it’s ideal for your child.

  • Look for latex and silicone:  They’re the two materials that pacifiers are most often made of, and both are safe for baby! Don’t be concerned about BPA, which was banned by mandate in 1999 for pacifier manufacturers.
  • Seek out orthodontic nipples:  They’re better for baby’s dental development, because the end of the nipple is flat on the bottom and round on top, matching the natural shape of your baby’s mouth.
  • More expensive doesn’t automatically mean better for your baby:  There are organic pacifiers which feature rounded nipple tips. While it’s true that these most naturally replicate the act of breastfeeding, they’re also not great for baby’s oral development, so don’t let a high price tag fool you into assuming quality.

Maintaining Your Baby’s Pacifier Collection

One part of making sure that your baby stays safe while using their pacifier is making sure that the binky they pick is clean and free of damage. Sanitizing pacifiers is a straightforward process, and the major requirements are found in just about every household. Here’s how to keep your baby’s pacifier collection in tip-top shape:

  1. Wash all pacifiers with gentle dish soap and warm water using a soft cloth, and dry them.
  2. After the pacifiers are dry, examine them for any damages or defects, weeding out picks that are broken or chewed up, which can lead to choking hazards for your kiddo.
  3. Boil a pot of water, and prepare sterile drying towels.
  4. Once the water has come to a rolling boil, drop in the pacifiers, and allow them to boil for five minutes.
  5. Drain the pacifiers and allow them to dry on a clean, sterile towel, shaking and patting them gently to speed the process once they’ve cooled.
  6. Store sterilized pacifiers in a clean, dry location until they are needed.

A pot of boiling water isn’t the only way to sanitize your baby’s pacifiers. Electric and microwave sanitizers designed to clean your baby’s bottles can also be used on pacifiers. Manufacturer’s instructions should always be followed when using a sanitizer, but the process is generally streamlined and quick.

Families who have a dishwasher can also use it for sanitizing pacifiers, but check packaging to make sure binkies are dishwasher safe and use the top rack of the dishwasher only in order to prevent heat damage.

Putting Down the Pacifier

Some kids put down their pacifier on their own and never turn back, but for others, kicking the pacifier habit is a very real fight. For parents who are facing down the possibility of enormous future orthodontic bills, giving in to their cries simply isn’t an option. Looking for ways to help your munchkin move on?

  • Teach new ways of coping:  Whether it’s talking to parents, holding a favorite stuffed animal or retreating to a quiet space, teaching kids new way to cope can help them feel less reliant on their binky. Once they get comfortable self-soothing in new ways, they’re less likely to regress to that coping strategy.
  • Track their progress, rewarding successes verbally and tangibly:  When kids decide not to use their pacifier, take note of it, give them some loving verbal encouragement, and consider small rewards like stickers, which are age-appropriate for kids who are breaking the pacifier habit.
  • Don’t get angry when they demand it:  Remember, they’re still babies, and it’s a major comfort object. You probably already know that upset babies aren’t up for negotiations and lessons, so save the reinforcement aspect for when they’re mentally prepared to learn instead of feeling punished and angry.
  • Use their natural creative inclinations:  Kids are wonderfully creative, and they love to tell and be part of stories. Creating a narrative where they have a special opportunity to say “goodbye” to their binky, possibly replacing it with a healthier transitional object delivered to help them with self-soothing.

Pacifiers have a lot of potential for helping parents and soothing babies. Thanks to the benefit of science and hindsight, we are better able to use these tools in a way that’s beneficial to our babies while avoiding their potential detriments.

When we use orthodontic-friendly models, keep them clean and transition away from them at an appropriate age, pacifiers are a healthy and helpful self-soothing tool.

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