Pacifier Use and The Effect on Oral Development
If you have a fussy baby, a pacifier can help calm and soothe. Whether it is by fingers, thumb, or pacifier, sucking is a natural and normal need for babies. However, dental experts warn that once your child reaches the preschool years, a pacifier can become a habit that obstructs the development of healthy teeth.
During the first year of your childs life, pacifiers can provide some great benefits. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, offering pacifiers to infants one month and older at the onset of sleep reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Sucking is a means for babies to soothe themselves and pacifiers provide a way for them to self-soothe and satisfy the need to suck that may exceed the time they get on the bottle or breast. Studies also show, and it is said by The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, that it is easier to wean from a pacifier than baby’s own thumb.
So what about my child’s teeth? What kind of effect will a pacifier have as they grow?
While pacifiers can have a magical touch with your fussy baby, here are a few issues to watch for when using a pacifier.
The American Academy of Family Physicians informs that pacifiers are especially beneficial in the first six months of life, but beyond that first year, potential complications of pacifier use can occur. The primary concern for pacifier use is associated with, but is not limited to, dental malocclusion, or misaligned teeth. Prolonged pacifier use can cause changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth, prevent proper growth of the mouth and create problems with tooth alignment. It is agreed that frequent and prolonged sucking can cause problems if the habit continues after your baby’s teeth start to fall out. Studies prove that pacifier use after three years of age results in a higher incidence of malocclusion. Recent studies, according to American Family Physician, confirm the negative dental effects with pacifier use after two years of age.
In addition to moving and shifting teeth, the Academy of General Dentistry reports that pacifier users are more likely to suffer from middle ear infections. As a result of altered dental structure, many studies show that ear infections are more likely to occur in children with frequent or prolonged pacifier use.
So what can you do to minimize your child’s risk of poor dental development or misaligned teeth?
It is important to keep in mind that pacifier use is a parents’ personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends offering a pacifier at naptime or bedtime until age one. However, the risks of pacifier use begin to outweigh the benefits as your baby gets older. While most kids stop using pacifiers on their own between ages 2 and 4, others need help from physicians and parents in breaking the habit.
For younger infants, Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend delaying pacifier use until breast-feeding is established, about 4-6 weeks. Swaddling, rocking, singing, playing soft music and infant massage can be effective alternatives to pacifier use.
For older infants and toddlers: activities, toys or other objects of affection, such as a blanket with satin edging, might help distract your child from his or her desire for the pacifier.
For Toddlers and older children: Consider holding a special ceremony to bury or discard the pacifier. You can also allow your child to trade in his or her pacifier for a special book or toy. It is our desire to help you and your child by providing information that promotes awareness of the potential impact of prolonged pacifier use on your child’s teeth.
This is a tough one. Most experts agree that the best way to deal with a stubborn thumb or finger habit is with positive reinforcement. For young children (ages 1-2) this is a difficult task, as their minds haven’t developed enough for positive reinforcement to have a predictable effect on habit formation. It is recommended that when a young toddler is seen with their fingers in their mouth, parents might gently pull the fingers out, and give them a task or toy to distract them. The less time the fingers spend in the mouth, the easier the habit is to break. Older children benefit from rewards and incentives. Colorful stickers on a calendar work well. If all else fails, ask your child’s dentist about a habit-curbing appliance to break the pesky habit!
Many parents wonder, when should my child see the dentist for the first time?
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a child’s first visit to the dentist should occur by his or her first birthday.
Tooth decay, or dental caries, is the most common chronic infectious disease of children in the country. The Center for Disease Control indicates it is most common among individuals between 6 and 19 years of age, is four times more common than asthma, and that more than 25% of 4 year olds have endured at least one cavity.
Despite the fact that 1 year olds typically have only about 8 to 10 out of 20 baby teeth, it is important for parents to schedule the “first well baby visit” as a preventive measure. At this first visit, we can gently introduce the child and parent to the pediatric dental environment, discuss proper home-care and diet, and evaluate the child’s growth and development.
Parents are oftentimes unaware of the early signs and potential problems that can lead to cavities. For instance, juice and milk are common causes of cavities in young children, and if a child frequently falls asleep with a cup of either in his or her mouth, this can result in severe consequences for baby teeth. This information can assist parents in improving their child’s dental health in the future.
So, what can you and your children expect at a first well baby visit? A friendly and explorative experience, rather than a painful and dreadful one.
Experts agree that it is also important for parents to find a “dental home” for their children, and doing this at a very young age decreases the probability that the first visit will be occasioned by an oral emergency. Parents should seek out an office that is: (1) child- and parent-friendly; (2)knowledgeable about young children’s oral health, growth and development; (3) responsive to you; (4) gentle and kind toward your child – even if your child fusses when his or her mouth is examined; (5) focused on your child’s specific needs; and (6) provides specific advice as to how to care for your child’s mouth.
Pediatric dental offices have child-friendly waiting rooms, age-appropriate toys and games, and child-sized chairs that can help patients fell more comfortable.
Don’t worry, it’s not too late, some parents may not want to bring their child because they are afraid that their child might not sit still or have a bad experience. We try to make the first visit a friendly and positive one. It’s important for the patient and parent to build trust in us.
Suggestions for your child’s dental care
1. Use a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water as soon as the first teeth appear. Use a “smear” of toothpaste to brush a child less than 2 years of age, and a “pea-sized” amount from 2-5 years. Children should spit out and not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.
2. Brush after breakfast and before bedtime, and do not give your child additional liquids after they brush at night. Help your child brush in the morning and in the evening.
3. Floss every night, because that is the best way to clean in between your teeth.
4. Don’t let your child sip on juice between meals, and avoid chewy and sticky foods such as candy, gum, fruit chews, fruit snacks, gushers and gummies.
5. The bacteria that cause cavities are contagious, so don’t share utensils or drinks with your child.
Note: Excerpts from Hinsdale Magazine