Most babies have a strong reflex for sucking. Studies have shown that some babies even suck their fingers and thumbs before they are born and sucking is a natural behaviour for babies. Sucking pacifiers or thumbs has a calming and soothing effect for many babies. This why pacifier use of so common and why many parents regard pacifiers as an essential item.
Parents have been using dummies, pacifiers, comforters or soothers for centuries. Pacifiers made of clay, coral, pearl, silver, and sugar teats have been found and described, with some of these dating back thousands of years. More than 50% of babies use pacifiers at 3 months of age in many European countries. A recent Canadian study showed that up to 84% of infants use a Pacifier. But are pacifiers really safe for babies, and what are the pros and cons for their use? This article reviews and summarizes the risks and benefits of using pacifiers, potential dental issues, safety tips for pacifier use and steps to help wean your baby from pacifiers, dummies and soothers.
How Pacifiers can affect the Teeth of Babies
Research has shown that Pacifiers can have adverse effects the structures in the mouth cavity, with extended use.
Anterior Open Bite - where an obvious gap develops between the lower front teeth and upper front teeth when the jaw is closed. The back teeth touch when the jaw closes, but the front teeth do not. This also develops with thumb sucking.
Posterior crossbite - where the upper back teeth are pushed inside the lower back teeth because of the constant sucking.
Increased overjet - which is a measure of how far the top incisor teeth extend ahead of the bottom incisors. Normally, the bottom and top front teeth should touch each other when the mouth is closed, leaving no or zero overjet. If the top teeth are ahead by some distance this is referred to as positive overjet.
Pacifier use beyond the age of 5 can delay the normal loss of the front baby teeth. This can hinder the emergence of adult teeth.
Dr. Abhinav Sinha, Director of the Children's Dental Health Center, Cornell Medical Center recommended in a recent report that: Pacifiers should only be used to help get babies to sleep, but should be removed immediately when the baby is asleep, Also Pacifier use should be phased out after the age of two years, and earlier if possible - the sooner the better.
Do pacifiers affect babies in other ways?
Research studies have shown that increased pacifier use is associated with more speech and language problems, and more ear infections. A Finish study reported in the journal Pediatrics, showed that children who ceased using pacifiers, at or before 6 months of age, had more than 30% fewer ear infections than babies who used them for longer periods. The reason for this is not known, but it has been well documented.
The dental problems and increased ear infections can negatively impact on language, learning and speech. While several studies found no effect on speech and language, others have found increased risks of speech disorders for children who sucked their fingers extensively or used a pacifier for 3 years or more. Most professionals suggest that a child's opportunities for imitating sounds, babbling, and participation in conversations are all reduced if a pacifier is in the mouth most of the time.
Pacifier Use and Breast Feeding
Breast feeding mothers are advised to delay offering their child a pacifier until the baby is a proficient feeder. Sucking on a breast nipple and sucking on a pacifier are quite different actions. Offering a baby a pacifier too early, can interfere with breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers wait until their baby has learned to suck well and latch on properly, and the milk supply is well established. This will normally occur at about one month of age. See this article.
Pacifier Use and SIDS
Research has shown that pacifier use for sleep reduced the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Pacifier use decreased the risk of SIDS when other risk factors were present such as: bedsharing, sleeping in the prone/side position, and when soft rather than hard bedding was used in the cot. Pacifier use may therefore provide a way to help reduce the risk of SIDS for infants in adverse sleep environments and otherwise at high risk. See this article.