It is a known fact that babies have a relatively strong reflex when it comes to sucking. It has been established that many babies latch on to their thumbs or the fingers prior to birth. Apart from making it possible for a baby to obtain the proper amount of nutrition, sucking is an activity that is known to soothe and calm.
As a result of this fact, many parents elect to provide their baby with a pacifier.
The question is, are pacifiers safe?
If you are reading this, it is likely that you are in the process of deciding whether or not to provide your child with a pacifier. Here, you will be provided with the pros and cons of such usage. The information contained here will help you decide if this is a good choice for your baby.
The Sucking Reflex
In order to understand the purpose behind pacifiers, we must first start by reviewing the sucking reflex in babies. This particular reflex develops when the child is still within the mother’s womb. It starts to develop around week 32 in the pregnancy and is completely developed by the week 36 in the pregnancy.
This reflex occurs in two distinct stages.
The first is when a natural or synthetic nipple (from a bottle or a pacifier) is placed in the mouth. The second stage occurs when the tongue is moved towards the nipple in order to suck. This is referred to as “expression”.
The main purpose of the suck reflex is to obtain nutrition; however, when a synthetic nipple from a pacifier is introduced, the purpose transitions from nutrition obtainment to soothing.
When a baby is sucking for anything other than sustenance, it is referred to as “non-nutritive sucking”; that is, for comfort reasons, not to obtain nutrition. This type of sucking action helps to instill a sense of calmness in the baby.
Many parents provide their baby with a pacifier – especially if they are crying or cranky. Almost instantly, the child will place an emphasis on the sucking motions associated with the pacifier and will quit crying or stirring.
Sucking is an integral part of their development and their movement from dependence to self-reliance. Still, though, is it appropriate to give your child a pacifier? Is it safe?
What Do Pediatricians Say?
There have been numerous studies conducted on pacifier usage, the benefits of pacifier usage, and the cons associated with usage. Most pediatricians feel that it is a parental choice. They do not advise against it, per say, but they do have guidelines in place that have been developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are as follows:
- First, a baby should not be provided with a pacifier until they are at least one month old.
- If the baby is fed with a bottle, a pacifier may be provided at bedtime as soon as they are born.
- If the baby is breastfed, they may use a pacifier at bedtime after several weeks of nursing going well. If the baby seems to develop issues in breastfeeding after introducing a pacifier, the parent should avoid providing the baby with the pacifier until a later time as it could result in the development of feeding problems.
- If a pacifier is provided to a child, it should be thoroughly cleaned before each use. If not cleaned properly, the baby may be introduced to germs that could result in the development of infections and illnesses.
- It is ideal to provide a baby a pacifier at bedtime. The reason being is that it has been determined that this can help prevent the occurrence of the issue known as “SIDS” prior to the baby’s first birthday.
- If the baby needs a clean diaper, a feeding, or medical treatment for an illness or an injury, a pacifier should never be used until these issues are dealt with. It is not a means of solving these problems and if it is used in that way, further problems may develop.
- Pacifiers should not be used to constantly soothe a child. Holding the child, rocking the child, singing, and similar activities will also aid in soothing a child. In addition to this, these love-based interactions will help to strengthen the bond between a baby and a parent.
- It should be known that providing a child with a pacifier on a constant basis may actually change the shape and functionality of the mouth. Usage should be limited to avoid these complications.
Now that we have outlined the ways in which a pacifier should and should not be used, we must expound on the dental effects associated with usage. Sucking on a pacifier has the capability of changing the shape of the mouth.
It places undue pressure on the front teeth and the palate, which may result in growth forward and up.
It can create an open bite.
While it may prove to be a temporary distraction, provide comfort to a child, prevent SIDS, help a child fall asleep, and keeps the child from sucking on their fingers or their thumbs, it can result in many dental problems.
An open bite, misaligned teeth, and the teeth not coming in properly may all occur with pacifier usage.
Let Us Help
As a child grows older, the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to pacifier usage. If at all possible, try to avoid pacifier usage. If your child is already using a pacifier, try to wean them off of it. If you have dental concerns, we here at Richmond Pediatric Dentistry can assist you. We accept a wide variety of insurance plans and work closely with families who require payment plans. If you would like to set up an appointment or have any questions about pacifier usage and the dental health, you may call us today at: 765-966-7602