Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:03pm EST
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Though pacifiers have gotten a bad rap for their potential to damage baby teeth, they can have some benefits as well, according to experts.
Past the age of 2, pacifiers can begin to disrupt the development of the dental structures, causing the teeth to become misaligned. So experts generally advise against prolonged pacifier use.
They also caution against introducing pacifiers too early, as some studies have found that pacifier use may interfere with breast-feeding.
But pacifiers are not all bad, according to Dr. Jane A. Soxman, a diplomat of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. In fact, recent research has linked them to a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
Soxman details the pros and cons of pacifiers in the current issue of the journal General Dentistry.
A number of studies have linked pacifier use before the age of 1 year to a lower risk of SIDS, which is most common between the ages of 2 and 4 months. Some research suggests that infants who sleep with a pacifier sleep less deeply and may be roused more easily if their breathing stops. Other studies have found that a pacifier during painful procedures, like a vaccination shot, can help ease infants’ distress.
So the pros of pacifiers, Soxman writes, “appear not only to justify their continued use in infants and toddlers but to support it.”
There are, however, right and wrong ways to use pacifiers.
First, experts suggest waiting until your baby has been breast-feeding for about a month before trying a pacifier. This may cut the chances of interfering with successful breast-feeding.
Then, know when to wean your child off of the pacifier.
“The age of 2 is a good guideline,” said Dr. Luke Matranga, a past president of the Academy of General Dentistry and an associate professor at Creighton University School of Dentistry in Omaha, Nebraska.]
Any problems with the baby teeth or underlying bones can still correct themselves when a child stops using a pacifier by 2 to 3 years of age, he said in an interview.
And pacifier use may be preferable to thumb-sucking, which can do more damage to the dental structures and, not surprisingly, is a harder habit to break, according to Matranga.
Occasionally dipping a baby’s pacifier into sugar water — as a pain-soothing tactic during teething, for example — is all right, Matranga said. Just don’t do it regularly, since that could boost the chances of tooth decay.
Experts also recommend that, ideally, pacifiers be used only when an infant is falling asleep, rather than all day long.
To lower any chances of choking, parents should stop using a pacifier when it shows signs of deterioration in the nipple. They should also choose a one-piece pacifier with ventilation holes in the shield — an important feature if the pacifier becomes lodged in the throat.
SOURCE: General Dentistry, January/February 2007.