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A Problem With Pacifiers?

Aug 11, 2015
Pacifiers and dental complications—what are the facts?

Every parent has an opinion on pacifiers - and many don't keep them to themselves. This week social media exploded when David Beckham's 4-year-old daughter was photographed with a pacifier in her mouth. People questioned if Beckham knew of the dental complications that could arise because of the pacifier.

Beckham was quick to respond to criticisms, saying people had no right to comment on his parenting and that the pacifier was needed for comfort for a moment.

"Some children benefit from the psychological security that a pacifier brings and that is a good thing," says James Bekker, DMD, a pediatric dentist with University of Utah Health. "Teeth can be straightened, but psychological development is very important."

Still, parents should be aware of the potential complications that extended pacifier use can cause.

"The harm is usually in creating an 'open bite' where the front teeth don't meet, making biting foods difficult," says Bekker. "Pacifiers also can cause a narrow palate and sometimes a posterior cross-bite. These are conditions that can be addressed with interceptive orthodontics."

In order to avoid such problems, regular extended pacifier use should be discontinued no later than two years of age.

"When the pacifier is stopped, the bite naturally starts to correct, so the earlier the habit is stopped, the better the outcome and less treatment required," says Bekker.

For parents considering banning the pacifier to avoid the situation altogether, Bekker says not to be hasty.

"Limited use by a young child can be a good alternative to thumb sucking or finger sucking," he says. "Short term sporadic pacifier use is better than constant use."

When it's time to give up the pacifier, parents need to understand the comfort it brings a child, and transfer that emotion to another object.

"Sometimes a security replacement like a stuffed animal can be substituted," says Bekker.