Thumb sucking, as well as bottles and pacifier use, are common and natural methods of self-soothing for many infants and toddlers. Parents and caregivers often worry that these habits will become difficult to break and will eventually lead to oral health problems.
Read on to learn more about the effects of bottles and pacifiers on dental development and how to best support your child’s oral health.
Are Pacifiers Bad for Teeth?
Many children who use pacifiers, engage in thumbsucking, and drink from bottles for extended periods of time develop problems with the alignment of their teeth and the appearance of their smile. The longer a child engages in these habits, the more likely that they will need orthodontic treatment at a later time.
Most experts and dental professionals agree that it is important to reduce or eliminate these habits by the age of 3. Research has shown, however, that the risk of developing bite issues and ear infections increases beginning at 12 months of age.
How Do Bottles and Pacifiers Affect Teeth?
While the use of bottles and pacifiers in infancy is generally considered safe and can be very useful tools, long-term use often leads to the development of dental issues commonly referred to as “pacifier teeth.”
These problems can include:
Open Bite – An open bite is the misalignment of the teeth, causing them to be angled outward and preventing the bite from closing. This often results in larger spaces between the front teeth.
Buck Teeth – The term ‘buck teeth’ refers to when the front teeth protrude from the front of the mouth.
Crossbites – Crossbites occur when the upper teeth fit inside or behind the lower teeth.
Changes with the Roof of the Mouth – Extended pacifier use often causes the roof of the mouth to become excessively narrow or misshapen.
Other problems associated with the extended bottle or pacifier use include:
Skin Irritation – Pacifiers and bottles often rub the skin around the mouth causing irritation
Speech Problems – Pacifier and bottle use can result in dental misalignments, which can negatively affect speech development.
Eating Challenges – Dental misalignment can result in problems related to eating and chewing.
Social Challenges – Prolonged use of a pacifier or a bottle and its adverse effects on the appearance of the teeth and smile can cause embarrassment or shame for some children, which in turn can negatively affect their social skills and confidence.
How to Prevent Dental Problems Caused by Bottle and Pacifier Use
When these habits are eliminated by the age of three or four, in many cases the baby teeth will have adequate time to realign themselves. Teeth will not be able to self-correct if these habits continue beyond that age or if the alignment problems are too severe.
The best form of prevention is to reduce the child’s use of bottles and pacifiers and to fully eliminate these habits as early as possible. Prevention is the best approach when it comes to avoiding dental problems related to these habits. It is important to ensure that:
- Your child is weaned from using a baby bottle by one year of age, or at the latest, eighteen months.
- Eliminate the use of a pacifier or thumb sucking as early as possible, and no later than the age of 4.
- Offer milk at mealtimes only, offering water throughout the day and on demand.
- Limit your child’s consumption of acidic fruit juices and foods in general.
- Develop and encourage strong oral health practices including brushing twice daily, flossing once per day, and visiting your dentist regularly for checkups and routine cleanings.
For many parents, eliminating these habits is stressful and difficult, often resulting in disturbances with sleep and a less happy child. The best approach to saying goodbye to such habits varies between children, with some benefitting from the cold turkey method, whereas others respond better to a gradual weaning approach. Introducing other comfort items such as a special blanket or stuffed toy is often helpful. Other approaches include:
- Cutting the tip of the pacifier or the bottle so it is no longer satisfying to suck on
- Having a ceremony to mark the end of these habits for your child
- Inviting your child to ‘trade in’ their bottle or pacifier for a highly desired toy
Highlighting the ‘big kid’ element of letting go of these habits is often the best way to encourage your child.
Consult Your Dentist
If you have concerns about your child’s bottle or pacifier use or need advice about how to eliminate these habits, your dentist can help. Contact our Guelph dentist’s office today to learn more about supporting your child’s oral health or to book your appointment today!