Lots of babies and young children will use a pacifier. Sucking is a natural reflex and a pacifier can be very comforting to a young child during their first years of life. The use of a pacifier can be entirely appropriate in helping to soothe a baby. In spite of this, we know parents and caregivers do wonder if using a pacifier could cause problems for the development of a child’s teeth or mouth. While using a pacifier is unlikely to do any damage initially, if the habit persists then there is a risk that it could cause problems.
Pacifier and Child’s Teeth Development
Problems can occur if your child persists in using a pacifier after their baby teeth begin to come out and as the adult teeth begin to erupt. Long term use can lead to the upper teeth becoming protrusive, while the bottom teeth are more likely to slant inwards. There is a possibility their upper and lower jaws may become misaligned and there is a risk that the roof of their mouth could become narrower as it becomes elongated due the action of sucking hard on a pacifier.
When Should a Child Stop Using a Pacifier?
There are various opinions on when a parent should begin discouraging their little one from using a pacifier, but generally most agree that once a child is potty trained and weaned, then it’s a good time to begin gently discouraging this habit. Most children will willingly get rid of a pacifier by age three or four. There are various methods of breaking this habit, depending on a child’s personality, but positive reinforcement is always important. Unlike thumb-sucking, pacifier use is more of a learned response so the habit can be easier to break.
Child Cannot Give up Their Pacifier?
If you cannot get your child to give up their pacifier then there is a risk they will need orthodontic treatment to correct the problems caused by long term use. This can include the use of braces to correct the position of teeth and palatal expanders to widen an elongated and narrow upper jaw. Some treatment may be possible while the child is still relatively young. Early interceptive orthodontics can use a variety of fixed and removable appliances to treat children as young as age six or seven, sometimes reducing or even eliminating the need for further orthodontic treatment when they are older.
There will always be some solution to remedy the damage that can potentially be caused by a child using a pacifier for a bit too long. We can recommend they have an early orthodontic evaluation as soon as age six or seven to assess any problems and to discuss their treatment. However, orthodontic treatment can be costly and time consuming, so ideally we’d prefer to prevent these sorts of problems from occurring in the first place.
If you do have a young child who is having difficulty giving up their pacifier, then please feel free to contact our friendly dental team as we may be able to help you.