Did you have a special item you felt attached to when you were little? For some children, a pacifier is an item that they treasure. While pacifiers can be helpful for young children, at some point it becomes less of a necessity and more of a hindrance. Take a look at how pacifiers can affect your child’s teeth and oral health as they grow.
1. The Effect Pacifiers Have On Teeth
For the most part, children under the age of 2 can use a pacifier with very little effects on their oral health. Most experts recommend that children at or over the age of 2 (such as preschoolers) should not use a pacifier, as it can cause oral structural changes.
The structural changes that could occur with long-term pacifier use (after age 2) include:
- Misalignment of upper and lower jaw
- Narrower roof of mouth
- Slanting down of the top front teeth
- Tilting in of the bottom front teeth
Pacifier use has also been associated with regular ear infections. If a child is beginning to learn to talk, having a pacifier in their mouth could cause speech or pronunciation issues in the future.
2. How to Wean a Child Off of a Pacifier
Some children can become very attached to their pacifiers and have a difficult time giving it up. If you would rather not try the “cold turkey” approach (simply taking it away from them for good) here are some tips to help you.
- Dip the tip in vinegar. The flavor of vinegar tends to be off-putting to a child. The vinegar will make the pacifier less appealing so your child won’t miss it as much once it’s taken away. They may even choose to give it up because they no longer enjoy it.
- Give away the pacifiers. Many children are encouraged to give their pacifier away. It’s a way to practice being unselfish and for particularly compassionate children it’s easier to give up the pacifier they love it they believe that it will make another person happy. You could have your child give their pacifier away to their dentist at their next appointment (ask the dentist first). Pediatric dentists understand children’s love of pacifiers and should be helpful in this process. Simply recycling the pacifier is also a viable option.
- Limit the use to only when they are sleeping, then eventually limit use altogether. Pacifiers can act as an emotional safeguard for children. Gradually limiting the use of the pacifier will help your child learn that they don’t need it to feel safe or comfortable.
- Put ALL pacifiers in a place where the child won’t get them. Try putting them in a plastic bucket and on a shelf that is out of reach for your kiddos. This will help prevent any accidental “relapse.”
- Pierce the tip or cut the nipple shorter (throw away cut-off pieces). This will take away the satisfaction from sucking, since it won’t work as designed.
- Replace the pacifier with a blanket or new toy. You could take them to the store to choose a new toy to replace their pacifier. Letting them be a part of the process can distract from the fact that the pacifier is going to go away. While this method won’t solve any attachment issues, it will help with their oral health. Giving them a new toy will provide something to be excited about besides their pacifier.
- Stop using bottles and Sippy cups as well as the pacifier. This will prevent your child from using cups and bottles to replace pacifiers. It will also improve the dental issues that are caused by sucking on bottles and pacifiers.
3. Oral Health for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Whether your child is just beginning to teeth or they have a full set of “baby teeth,” it’s important to start good oral habits early. To help protect your child from harm caused by both pacifiers and poor oral health, check out the tips below.
Pacifier Safety Tips
- Buy pacifiers that are one piece (no choking hazards).
- Don’t tie pacifiers around your baby’s neck, wrist or crib.
- Wash and disinfect used pacifiers daily.
- Inspect pacifiers for deterioration. If a pacifier is well-used, then the nipple can break off and become a choking hazard.
Oral Health Tips
- Go to the Dentist. Your baby should go to the dentist no later than age 1! The pediatrician can help foresee future dental problems.
- Clean an Infant’s Mouth. If your baby doesn’t have teeth yet, try wiping their gums with a damp cloth twice a day.
- Start Good Dental Habits. If your child is a little older, teach them how to care for their teeth and gums themselves. Supervise them as they brush, floss, and use mouthwash. Help them remember to do this twice a day.
As your child grows, help them develop good dental habits by limiting the use of a pacifier and encouraging actions such as brushing their teeth.
Do you have tips for weaning a child off of a pacifier? Tell us in the comments below!