Pacifiers help babies (and their parents) get through periods of crankiness, crying, and pain. They are ideal for those times when the baby is either not hungry or too full to eat—but still needs the comfort that sucking provides.
Pacifiers as we know them today, with the familiar guard and handle, were first patented around 1900. Although they have been widely used ever since, pacifiers sometimes raise questions from parents and medical professionals. Many studies have examined their benefits and drawbacks.
According to the policy guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, both finger and pacifier sucking are considered normal behavior in infants and toddlers. And when used correctly, pacifiers don’t cause medical or psychological problems.
Here are some of the advantages of using a pacifier:
Soothes and quiets the child
Produces an actual pain-relieving effect if the child is hurt or uncomfortable
Helps development of muscles around the mouth
Slightly decreases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome
Parents should also be aware of the potential health issues:
Overuse of pacifiers, especially past age 3, may interfere with the normal positioning of teeth and shape of the mouth, particularly when permanent front teeth are emerging.
Increased chance of dental cavities. Never dip a pacifier in honey or other sugary liquids.
Increased risk for latex allergies if a latex pacifier is used
Possible early weaning if the infant is breast-fed
Contamination with germs if the pacifier is not properly cleaned. Wash pacifiers often with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
Choking and suffocating hazards. Never use the nipple from a baby bottle as a pacifier. Never hang a pacifier on a string around the baby’s neck.
Possible increased risk for ear infections
If you have questions or concerns about pacifiers, talk with your child’s dentist.
“Infant Pacifiers: An Overview.” R.H. Schwartz and K.L. Guthrie. Clinical Pediatrics. May 2008, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 327–31. Abstract: http://cpj.sagepub.com/content/47/4/327.extract Accessed 2013.
“Non-Nutritive Sucking with a Pacifier: Pros and Cons.” J.A. Soxman. General Dentistry. January/February 2007, pp. 59–62. Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17333970 Accessed 2013.
“Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking.” American Academy of Pediatrics. May 11, 2013 www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/pages/Pacifiers-and-Thumb-Sucking.aspxAccessed 2013.
“Pacifier Use in Children: A Review of Recent Literature.” S.M. Adair. Pediatric Dentistry. 2003, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 449–58. Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14649608 Accessed 2013.
“Tooth Decay - early childhood.” Medline Plus , U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, August 2, 2011. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002061.htm Accessed 2013.