Do Pacifiers Harm Children's Teeth?

By Maggie McCormick
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When your child took to a pacifier, you breathed a sigh of relief at the ease of soothing him by just popping it into his mouth. As he gets older though, you might start to worry about the cost of orthodontics. Fortunately, extended pacifier use isn't necessarily a prescription for bad teeth, but you do need to be on the lookout.

The Age of the Child

The age of the child can play a role in whether the pacifier will harm her teeth. According to Zero to Three, pacifier use rarely causes major problems in children under age 4. Once she starts to lose teeth and get her adult teeth, however, you may need to be more careful. Most likely, a child of that age will be well beyond her pacifier years, but she might still suck a thumb for comfort.

Tooth Alignment

Prolonged pacifier use can cause the teeth to align improperly, according to Dr. Abhinav Sinha, director of the pediatric dental clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, in an article in The New York Times. Most commonly, it can cause a gap between the top and bottom teeth, or an overbite, where the top teeth stick out further than the bottom teeth. Depending on the severity, you may need to correct this problem in the future with orthodontics.

Tooth Decay

Once your child has teeth, you should start brushing them to remove sugar and other things that can cause tooth decay. Toddlers can brush their own teeth, with a follow-up from the parent. Though it's not a common practice, some parents have dipped the child's pacifier in sugar or syrup to encourage the child to take it. When you do this, the sugars can settle on the child's teeth. MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, strongly recommends against this practice.

Speech Problems

According to The Hanen Centre, the research is mixed on whether extended pacifier use can cause speech delays. However, the organization notes that when your child has a pacifier in her mouth, she's not able to babble, coo or practice any type of speech. If she's only using her pacifier to comfort herself while sleeping, you probably don't have to worry much. If it seems like she constantly has the pacifier in her mouth during waking hours as well, though, encourage her to give it up, allowing her to practice her speaking skills.