When it comes to a pacifier, there can be a lot of conflicting and often misleading information on the effects it has on tooth development. Our Redland Bay dentist, Dr Noopur Sharma and mum of two, shares her expertise and advise on the topic of pacifiers and how to get rid of them.
Should I use a pacifier?
If you are reading this at midnight, crying, because you have been feeding your new baby for what feels like the 7th hour straight, it might be time to consider a pacifier.
This was me, when my son was 3 months old, and I was losing my mind. The main advantage of using a pacifier is it can soothe a baby in between feeds (giving your boobs a break). It also calms a baby enough to help them to fall asleep. Hooray for sleep!
Furthermore, pacifiers have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS and are endorsed by health professionals across the board for young babies. Find a couple of different brands you want to try and go for it, it might be just the help you need.
Keep in mind, at the end of the day, choosing to use pacifier is your personal decision.
Will a pacifier give my child crooked teeth?
In short, a pacifier used beyond 2 years can have a dental impact by influencing the shape of the mouth and alignment of the teeth.
As your toddler matures physically, anything repeated on a regular basis over a long period of time (like pacifier sucking or thumb sucking) will cause the jaw to grow around that item.
Furthermore, you could also face language delays if the pacifier use is excessive, as children tend to refrain from talking with a dummy in their mouth.
When should I introduce a pacifier?
The recommended age to introduce a pacifier is a highly divided opinion amongst professionals. Some hospitals, for example, give newborns a pacifier from the day they are born!
In my experience, I would suggest waiting at least 5-6 weeks or until breastfeeding is established (if you are breastfeeding). This reduces the risk of “nipple confusion” and gives the baby a chance to really learn how to suckle on your breast.
Sucking on a pacifier is very different to suckling on a breast to extract milk. Further, some believe that a pacifier can make a child’s latch “lazy” and make it difficult to get a rhythm to breastfeeding.
Using a pacifier in the first 6 weeks can also lower your breast milk supply as you might miss hunger cues by giving your baby a pacifier instead of milk. Breast milk is digested very quickly, and sometimes babies need to feed again only an hour later.
Always offer breast milk first before the pacifier if you think your baby is hungry. Feeding frequently is so important in the first few months as it will establish your milk supply.
If you are bottle feeding, these risks are not as relevant. Although, try to keep your baby on a routine to help prevent missing hunger cues.
What age should I get rid of a pacifier?
While pacifiers are a wonderful tool to help soothe a baby, they start of become a problem if they become a sleep aid. Generally, as your child gets older, the more dependant they will become on the pacifier to fall asleep. You should try and remove the pacifier before the age of two.
Warning signs include:
- You are waking up 50 times a night to re-insert it
- You are using the pacifier as a devise to stop your child from crying at times inconvenient to you
- You are feeling a little too dependent on it (i.e. you are panic stricken if you get to the shops and realise you have forgotten it at home)
Pacifiers are not likely to impact your child’s facial development or teeth IF they are removed at the right age. The easiest time to get rid of a pacifier is around 6-7 months, before the baby becomes emotionally attached to it.
Stopping pacifier use early can eliminate the tough emotional response that comes with taking the dummy away abruptly. Personally, I removed my son’s pacifier when he turned 1 as it was becoming more of a hassle than a help. And we certainly had a few days of a very grumpy baby!
How can I take the pacifier away?
If your child is over 6 months old and using it for emotional comfort, rather than reflexive suckling, it can be tough. Here are some ideas:
- Start by reducing the amount of time your child uses the pacifier during the day and limit it to sleep times. This can dramatically reduce dependence.
- If taken away early enough, i.e. between 6 months to 1 year, you can remove the pacifier cold turkey and deal with a few days of crying. We introduced a soft toy as part of our sons sleeping routine so that when we took the pacifier away, he already had another comfort item present, this way it wasn’t as much of a shock.
- If you child is closer to 18 months to 2 years old, you could pretend to lose it and look for it with her around the house (I know this sounds so mean, but it works). Alternatively, you can cut off the top of the pacifier, so it can no longer be sucked. Your child might then decide to spit it out and move on.
- Not overly recommended, you can leave the pacifier in until your child is old enough to understand ideas like “pacifiers are for babies not big girls!” and they will voluntarily give it up. The risks of this is you might keep putting it off until your child is 3 or 4. At this age, it can backfire, and you will have to bargain with a toddler.
- Come to the dentist. For older children, sometimes a different person or someone of authority does the trick in advising them to move on. We can easily arrange a “dummy drop off” during your child’s check-up and help you out!
Overall, try not to stress about it. Keep in mind it is easier to wean a child off while they are younger. But it is certainly not the end of the world if you child is having a hard time settling without it. When they are old enough, you can gently wean them :)
And finally, if no one has told you today, you are doing a wonderful job mums and dads!
Dr. Noopur Sharma
Coastal Dental Care Redland Bay