Better Understanding The Dental Impacts Of Pacifier Use In Children

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Is your family home filled with fading photos of you, snuggled in some onesie, with a pacifier in your mouth? Are you a parent who had 12 identical copies of your baby’s binkie, which you can go nowhere without in fear of a meltdown? Do you work at a restaurant, and often find abandoned pacifiers lying under tables, with frantic parents rushing back to retrieve them? When you think baby, perhaps one of the first images that pops to mind is an infant, pacifier firmly in mouth.

Pacifiers and thumb-sucking are two of the most common calming practices for children. 75-85% of the West’s children regularly use a pacifier. As it abates the child’s desire to suckle pediatricians often recommend using a pacifier. It supports the development of self-soothing techniques and helps wean the child off breast milk. Thumb-sucking, though accomplishing similar goals, is not recommended. Continued sucking can cause damage to the skin on the finger and invites many more germs into a child’s life. The biggest threat looming over the pacifier is pacifier teeth: crooked teeth caused by pacifier usage. While pacifiers can cause abnormal dentition, the truth is a fair bit more complicated, so you shouldn’t throw out all your infant’s binkies just yet. After all, the positive effects above are tested and true.

Pediatric dentists recommend weaning babies from pacifiers starting at six months. Any later and the continued suckling can cause dental malocclusions. The intensity of the effect grows as a child ages farther from six months, so the effect on the teeth of a six-year-old child using a pacifier is greater than that of a two-year-old child. The sustained usage causes the teeth to grow in around the pacifier or thumb in the mouth, accommodating the smaller amount of space. The impacted growing often results in overbites and/or crooked teeth. The recommended stopping point is six months because the teeth often have not started coming in yet, so the object’s presence in the mouth has little dental effect.

The crooked teeth caused by sustained pacifier usage can often be easily fixed through orthodontic care, be it surgical or tool-based intervention. But if another reason for pacifier weaning is needed, there is evidence to show it can affect the future of your child’s auditorial health. There has long been a colloquial link between sustained pacifier usage and increased risk of ear infections. Finnish researchers, headed by Dr. Marjo Niemela of the University of Oulu, did a study on 484 children between 7-18 months of age, where they asked one group of parents to limit the child’s pacifier usage. What they found was that the group with limited pacifier time had 33% fewer ear infections than the unlimited group. Though unsure exactly why the increased pacifier usage resulted in more ear infections, Finnish researchers theorize it relates to the changing pressure equilibrium in the ear caused by suckling.

The conclusion then seems to be that pacifiers are safe and useful in moderation. Like anything in the world, extended and overindulgent pacifier use causes problems both for the user themselves and the folks around them.

Works Cited

ABC News. “Pacifiers Linked to Ear Infections.” ABC News, 5 Sept. 2000.

Elgin Pediatric Dentist. “Do Pacifiers Hurt Tooth Development?” Elgin Pediatric Dentist, 15 Nov. 2021.

SuperKids Pediatric Dentistry. “Do Pacifiers Really Cause Dental Issues in Children?”

Lin, Jin. “Will Pacifiers Affect My Baby’s Teeth?” Hurst Pediatric Dentistry, 27 Aug. 2020.