Are Pacifiers Harmful To My Child's Teeth?

Babies find comfort in sucking on their thumbs, pacifiers, or other objects to self-soothe, but did you know that using a pacifier for too long can lead to serious oral health problems such as improper teeth alignment, changes in the roof of the mouth, and tooth decay? 

The best way to avoid pacifiers leading to oral health problems is to limit their use whenever possible and wean your child off of them as soon as possible, preferably after the first year of life but definitely before they reach 4 or 5 years old. 

At this point, they are at a much higher risk for teeth problems that will not be able to be self-corrected. This could lead to costly dental treatments that could have been avoided. This guide will give you all the info you need on pacifier use, the appropriate age to stop, how to limit their use, and how to wean your child off of pacifiers.

What Are Pacifiers For?

A baby’s instinct to suck on something is natural and is a form of self-soothing. There are many benefits of pacifier use, such as ease of sleep, providing comfort, reduction of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, reduced pain, and soothe a crying baby.

Thumb-sucking is similar to pacifier use and it’s done for the same purposes. However, thumb-sucking is less ideal, because the child’s fingernails harbor a lot of bacteria that can get into the mouth and make them sick. Thumb-sucking can also be a much harder habit to break in the future because it isn’t an object that can physically be taken away.

Even when you do wean your child off of pacifier use, you should ensure that they don’t merely replace it with thumb-sucking, which can cause the same dental issues as pacifier use.

When Should My Child Stop Using a Pacifier?

While it’s safe to use pacifiers for the first year of life, anything past this point is no longer necessary. While it’s not critical that pacifier use be completely cut off at this point, the sooner you can get your child weaned off it, the better.

Longer-term pacifier use can contribute to problems with the teeth' alignment and shape of the roof of the mouth. When you decide to stop your child’s pacifier-use is a personal choice, but they should stop using it by the age of 4, or their risk for serious teeth problems increases.

The first year: During this first year, the pacifier provides the natural soothing sensation that the child would get from breastfeeding. Providing the baby with a pacifier can help the child to sleep and feel more relaxed.

1-2 yrs old: The instinctual desire to suck on something for soothing is not as strong past the 1-year mark and it could be a good idea to try to get them weaned off it at this point so it does not become a habit.

2-4 yrs old: This is the age that children tend to naturally stop using pacifiers on their own accord. However, if your child shows no sign of stopping their pacifier use, this is when you should begin implementing methods to wean them off it. 

Over 4 years old: The risk of dental problems for children using pacifiers past this age is much higher.

How They Can Be Harmful

Many issues with the structure of the mouth, teeth, skin, and social problems can occur as a result of extensive pacifier use for too long. Pacifiers used past the time your child’s teeth begin growing in can cause:

  • An open or overbite
  • Buck teeth
  • Tooth decay
  • Changes to the roof of the mouth
  • Irritation from rubbing against the skin
  • Speech impediment
  • Eating problems
  • Social issues
  • Improper tooth alignment

How to Reduce the Harm of a Pacifier

If your child is still quite young and you feel that the use of a pacifier offers too many benefits to remove right away, then making these alterations can reduce harm.

  • Only give your child a pacifier when it’s time to sleep
  • Use pacifiers with ventilation holes
  • Make sure it’s always clean
  • Refrain from dipping it into sweet liquids
  • Provide alternative forms of comfort
  • Breastfeed
  • Use sippy cups

Weaning Your Child Off of a Pacifier

Habits built from infancy can be hard to break, but these tips can help make life without a pacifier easier to adopt. Try the following:

  • Dip the pacifier in vinegar
  • Cut or pierce the pacifier to reduce satisfaction
  • Go on a trip without it
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Offer something in exchange for giving up the pacifier
  • Wean them off of it gradually by slowly reducing its use
  • Offer rewards when your child doesn’t use it

The Bottom Line

While pacifiers do a lot of good in the first year of your child’s life, long-term use can do more harm than good. It can be difficult to take something away from your child that helps them sleep and offers them a lot of comfort, but weaning them off of pacifiers early reduces the risk of serious oral health problems as well as social problems. If you’re looking for ways to soothe your baby without the excessive use of pacifiers, breastfeeding is the next best option. 

You can also try to soothe your baby in other ways, like rocking them back and forth, giving them a special toy or blanket that comforts them or using white noise for relaxation. At Desert Kids Dental, we understand the importance of preventative dentistry

If you’re concerned that your child’s pacifier use could be contributing to teeth problems, schedule a consultation, and Dr. Sandra Thompson will assess their oral health.

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