Pacifier use and thumb sucking are heavily ingrained in our culture, and in most cultures around the world throughout history. As a result, most of us don’t think much about it. However, a lot of people have recently started taking a closer look at this common practice and wondered just how healthy it actually is.
Is that pacifier your baby loves so much setting them up for dental problems down the line? Find out everything you need to know about this innocent – or perhaps not-so-innocent – nurturing habit.
Pacifiers and Thumb-sucking are Healthy, But Only to a Point
All babies tend to have a natural thumb sucking reflex, and it has been shown that even unborn babies have been known to suck their thumb in the womb, visible on an ultrasound. Because thumb sucking is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, most experts agree that at least some thumb sucking is completely harmless and is nothing to worry about.
Pacifiers do seem to help keep babies happy and quiet, but there is some chance that pacifier use, especially beyond the age of two, could affect your baby’s dental growth. Here’s what some experts have to say about the potential pitfalls of pacifier use in infants beyond the age of two.
Why You Should Wean Your Toddler Off that Pacifier
Whether or not your baby’s pacifier use affects their tooth growth will depend largely on whether or not they stop by the age of two. Although a younger infant can easily use a pacifier or suck their thumb without any issues, an older infant or toddler could inadvertently alter their dental formation by overusing this comforting habit.
Sucking on a pacifier or thumb for too long can result in an overbite, misaligned teeth, and other issues.
Malocclusion of the Teeth
Malocclusion refers to the misalignment of a baby’s teeth as they grow in. This problem that can occur when a toddler is still sucking their thumb and regularly using a pacifier through their preschool years. The teeth and jawbone are trained to grow around an object that is held in the mouth regularly and frequently. This can cause a posterior crossbite (where the back molars don’t meet correctly) or an anterior open bite as a result.
An anterior open bite is also known as a negative overbite. This is an obvious gap in between the lower and upper teeth that occurs while the jaw is closed. The rear molars touch when the jaw is closed, but the front incisors will not touch.
If you have this problem, it’s possible you may have used a pacifier or sucked your thumb for too long as a toddler, something you may wish to prevent your child from developing. This can affect your child’s smile and could even lead to speech impediments in severe cases if not abated.
Sugar or Bacteria Contamination on Teeth and Gums
Some parents may be tempted to dip their baby’s pacifiers in honey, syrup, sugar, or other sweet substances to help the baby accept the pacifier. However, this coats the baby’s teeth with sugar and provides food for acid-forming bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Other parents may stick the baby’s pacifier in their own mouth in order to clean it. This introduces the bacteria in your own mouth to the baby’s mouth, which is potentially harmful. For this reason, it’s best to clean the baby’s pacifier with water instead.
How Can You Protect Your Child’s Healthy Dental Development?
In an ideal world, thumb-sucking and pacifier use could be easily capped at a certain age. However, it is quite likely your child will do one or both for some time, which makes it wise to have a strategy for dealing with this circumstance.
Consider the following tips regarding your baby’s thumb-sucking and pacifier use:
- Plan to end thumb-sucking and pacifier use by the time your child turns two.
- Only allow your child to use a pacifier at bedtime.
- Clean the pacifier your baby uses with warm soapy water.
- Do not dip your child’s pacifier in anything sweet.
What Makes Baby Teeth So Important?
A great deal of development and growth happens during the early years, and this growth has the potential to last for many years and influence adulthood. By paying attention to your child’s pacifier use and thumb-sucking behavior, you can help to ensure your child has a healthy smile for years to come.
If your child is under two years old, don’t worry. Pacifier use and thumb-sucking aren’t inherently bad, and can even help reduce the risk of SIDS and help them sleep. Just try and wean them off of the pacifier by their second birthday to ensure their teeth are able to grow in smoothly and properly.