Pacifiers can be great for children, especially during their first six months. In addition to its calming effect, pacifier use in infants can help decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and aid in the development of jaw muscles. Although pacifier use is generally a healthy habit within the first two years of life, continued or improper use may ultimately have a negative impact on your child’s oral and overall health.
Potential pacifier problems
Pacifier use typically is acceptable after an infant is 1 month old and has had sufficient time to develop a healthy breast-feeding habit. However, experts recommend that children stop using pacifiers after age 2, when it becomes more of a habit than a developmental need. Research shows that continued pacifier use, especially after age 2, often is associated with:
- Increased risk of middle ear infection
- Improper growth of the mouth
- Misalignment of teeth
- Dental cross bite and/or open bite
- Development of a thumb-sucking habit
Parents should aim to rid children of their pacifier habit before age 2 to avoid associated emotional and habitual attachments to the objects.
Tips for correct pacifier use
For infants, correct use and care of pacifiers must be considered. Here are a few tips:
- Purchase orthodontically designed pacifiers
- Clean pacifiers regularly
- Check frequently for cracks or discoloration in the pacifiers’ rubber. Discard if damaged
- Replace old pacifiers
- Wash pacifiers prior to first use
- Do not tie pacifiers around your infant’s neck
- Offer pacifiers after and between meals, before naps, or at bedtime
Following these basic rules will help ensure your infant’s pacifier use is both safe and healthy.
Proper pacifier cleaning
The shape and materials of pacifiers make them susceptible to colonization by bacterial organisms, including Staphylococcus, which causes staph infections. To prevent the spread of bacteria and disease, clean your child’s pacifiers at least once a day.
They can be cleaned using mild soap and water. When cleaning pacifiers, make sure to remove all excess water from the nipple, where it can collect and cause bacterial growth. Also, pacifiers that are dishwasher safe can be cleaned easily in the dishwasher; just follow the instructions on the pacifier package.
Saying goodbye to the pacifier
For some infants, giving up the pacifier can be difficult, especially if they become emotionally attached to the habit. Parents looking to wean their children from the pacifier can begin by offering other alternatives, including:
- Rocking motions, singing, or music before naps or at bedtime
- Activities and games
To further help break the pacifier habit, parents also can:
- Limit pacifier use gradually over time
- Reduce pacifier satisfaction by piercing the pacifier’s nipple
- Dip the pacifier in a safe but undesirable flavor, such as white vinegar
- Go “cold turkey” and refuse to offer the pacifier.
If you have more questions or want more information regarding pacifier use, talk to your child’s pediatrician or Dr. Marinic.