What Does Long-Term Pacifier Use Do to Your Child's Teeth?

By David B. Ryan
Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

The baby supply store offers dozens of shapes and colors of binkies, but you still may wonder if children risk tooth damage by using a pacifier. MayoClinic.com lists some appropriate times to offer your baby a pacifier, including a temporary distraction from shots, during airplane takeoffs and landings, and a soothing tool to use while falling asleep. Long-term use, however, defined as longer than the first few years of life, can create potential dental problems for children.

Pacifier Dependency

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a pacifier for young babies through the first year of life to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Continued use of pacifiers beyond the first year, however, can create a dependency on the device later into childhood. Rocking your baby to sleep or soothing the child with a song during the night, as opposed to offering a pacifier, helps avoid dependency problems. Giving your child the pacifier only in special situations, such as during doctor's exams, can limit her reliance on it and reduces the chance for experiencing dental damage.

Tooth, Tissue and Bite Damage

Steven M. Adair, chair of the department of pediatric dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia, found in 2003 that long-term use of pacifiers risks changing your child's natural bite and creates chewing problems. Pacifiers increase the risk of openbites, excessive overjets and crossbites, terms used to describe the mismatch of the top and lower teeth. Children using dirty pacifiers also are at risk for oral infections and mouth disease that interferes with tooth development. Pacifier use by school-age children also risks skeletal damage, such as changes to the mouth dental arches and palate, in addition to tooth problems and potential issues with delayed language due to the abnormal mouth development.

Conventional and Physiologic Pacifiers

Conventional pacifiers use an anatomical nipple shape in the design, while physiologic "soother" designs allow the child to suck on a latex or silicone insert with more elasticity to have less interference with new teeth. Physiologic pacifiers designed specifically for sleeping have flexibility in both the nipple shape and the mouthpiece. This design also eliminates the ring on the outside of the pacifier so the mouthpiece gives more under pressure. This reduces the amount of force on the child's face, mouth and teeth during the night and nap time.

Dental Visits

Pediatric prevention and maintenance dental visits help identify problems from pacifier use. Notify your dentist that your child uses a pacifier and bring it with you to the dental exam. This helps your dentist identify potential damage from its use. Orthodontists help children as young as 7 with corrective equipment to straighten teeth damaged by extended pacifier use, and early treatment sometimes minimizes the amount of correction compared to waiting until the child gets older to repair damage. KidsHealth.org recommends visiting the dentist for checkups every three months to a year, depending on what your dentist suggests.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.