Are you pondering the bill for future braces every time you put a pacifier in your baby’s mouth? There’s no need. Most dentists agree that pacifiers are fine for babies as long as the habit doesn’t go on for too long.
“I am a very pacifier friendly dentist,” says Dr. Nilda Collins, of Collins and Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Annapolis. “It is the lesser of the evils.”
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends pacifiers over thumb/finger sucking to comfort new babies because a pacifier habit is easier to break at an earlier age.
“Sucking on a thumb, finger or pacifier is normal for infants and young children and most stop on their own,” according to the AAPD. “The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less chance the habit will lead to orthodontic problems.”
Dr. Margaret McGrath of Kent Island Pediatric Dentistry says it’s best to stop the habit by age 3 at the latest but closer to 2 is better. Beyond age 3, sucking a pacifier or the thumb leads to crooked teeth and can change the shape and formation of the palate, she says. Sucking opens the bite for babies as well but if stopped early enough, it will go back to normal, Collins adds.
Stopping too early, when there is still a strong sucking need, can be a problem because the baby might find his or her thumb. If this is the case, it’s best to go back to the pacifier for a time, Collins says.
Collins also stresses that pacifiers are better than letting a baby suck on a bottle filled with juice or milk because that can lead to cavities.
There are orthodontic pacifiers but it is unclear if these are better for future teeth, according to McGrath. Smaller pacifiers are better than larger ones, but both will open the bite in the long run, Collins adds.
Here are some tips when it comes time to take away the pacifier:
- Make the child part of the discussion.
- Start by limiting use to just nap and bedtime.
- Take it to the dentist to “give to a new baby.”
- Cut the tip off so it’s harder to suck.
- Cut it out cold turkey.
Most toddlers will have trouble for a night or two but all adjust eventually, the dentists agree.