Does your baby love her pacifier, but you’re worried that it may cause dental issues later on? Is your baby not ready to wean from bottles, but you’re concerned using them too long will cause problems?
Sucking on a pacifier or bottle can be soothing for a young child, but can, unfortunately, lead to dental problems as your child gets older. Even though your child’s baby teeth are temporary, they are still important and still susceptible to cavities and other dental problems. They even influence how adult teeth will come in.
In this post, we will discuss the effects pacifiers and bottles can have on your child’s teeth, how to avoid potential related dental problems, and when and how to wean your child from the paci and bottle.
Effects of Pacifiers on Teeth
Pacifiers can be beneficial for babies and parents as they satisfy a baby’s natural sucking instinct and provide a form of comfort. Pacifiers have also been shown to have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) between the ages of 1 and 6 months.
However, the long-term or overuse of a pacifier can lead to dental issues, because as your baby grows and matures, her jaw will start to grow around anything held inside of it on a repeat basis. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Dental Association (ADA), overuse of a pacifier affects mouth and teeth development and can potentially lead to the following:
- Crooked teeth
- Front teeth not meeting: Front top teeth to slant out and front bottom teeth to tilt in
- Jaw misalignment (such as an overbite)
- Narrowing of roof of the mouth
Avoiding Pacifier Teeth
With proper use of a pacifier, your baby can still comfort herself with a paci without developing dental problems. It is best to wean your child from her paci by the age of two to prevent the risk of pacifier teeth.
It’s an even better idea to stop using the pacifier between 9 and 12 months, as it can be a tough habit to break once the child is walking or crawling, as they can go all over the house searching for it (source).
Using pacifiers that are labeled as “orthodontically friendly” may also limit the risk of dental issues. You could also only offer the pacifier during sleeping times to limit the amount of time it’s being used, but still, reduce the risk of SIDS.
Breaking the Habit
Think it’s time for your child to ditch the paci? Here are some helpful tips on how to break the habit:
- Distractions: When your child asks for her paci, distract her with other activities, such as reading, coloring, playing with her favorite toy, etc.
- Offer a transitional object: Because pacifiers are often a form of comfort, offer your child a transitional security object, such as a blanket or doll.
- Encouragement/praise: Tell your child “What a big girl/boy you are!” when they aren’t using their pacifier.
- Rewards: Use positive reinforcement and give your child a sticker when they decide not to use their pacifier.
- Offer other forms of comfort: Comfort your child in other ways when they need to be soothed: sing to them, rock them, etc.
- Avoid stressful situations as much as possible when starting to wean: It’s probably not the best idea to wean your child for her paci when you are about to move, going on a big vacation, or about to have another child.
- Don’t scold/punish/use negative reinforcement when your child does use her paci.
- Cold turkey with an epic farewell event: Going cold turkey may be the best option for some children. Tie a ribbon to your child’s pacifier and let it “fly” away.
Effects of Bottles on Teeth
Apart from the risks associated with prolonged sucking (as mentioned with pacifier effects), bottles also pose a risk of promoting cavities and baby bottle tooth decay if they contain anything other than water.
What Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often to referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. Baby bottle tooth decay can occur from frequent sucking/sipping on milk or juice over an extended period. It often transpires when parents put their baby to bed with a bottle, use a bottle as a form of comfort, or prolong its use.
When sugars and carbohydrates come in consistent contact with teeth, it creates an environment for decay-causing bacteria to flourish, rotting away your child’s teeth. Tooth decay is nothing to take lightly, as it can potentially lead to painful infections, and in extreme cases, tooth extractions or extensive dental treatments (source).
If you notice any white spots on your child’s teeth, particularly near the gum line, then be sure to contact your dentist, as this is an early symptom of baby bottle tooth decay. The earlier you get your child into the dentist, the less extensive and invasive the treatment will be.
If tooth decay is spotted in later stages you may notice the following symptoms:
- Brown or black spots on the teeth
- Bad breath
- Bleeding and swollen gums
- Fever (which could indicate an infection)
If your child has any of these late symptoms, then it is imperative that you get him/her to the dentist as soon as possible to prevent the decay from spreading further and leading to extensive restoration treatments or even tooth loss (source).
Avoiding Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
The best approach to baby bottle tooth decay is to prevent it, and here are some ways that you can do that.
- Wean your child from the bottle by 18 months of age, preferably by 12 months.
- Leave milk for mealtimes only after your child has weaned from the bottle. Only offer them water to sip on throughout the day.
- Do not give your baby a bottle when putting them to sleep or down for a nap.
- Place only formula, milk, or breast milk in bottles. Do not give your baby/toddler juice or any other sugary drinks in his bottles.
- Do not use the bottle as a pacifier or form of comfort.
- Limit acidic foods and juices.
- Practice good oral hygiene: Brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Always brush your child’s teeth before putting him to bed.
- Start your child’s dental visits early on. (source)
Bottle Weaning Tips
Transitioning from the bottle to a cup or sippy can be a daunting time, but is important to do so by 18 months to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. Here are some tips and tricks to help smooth the transition:
- Start early and introduce the sippy cup around 6 months of age.
- Once your baby has the sippy cup figured out, start replacing one regular bottle feeding a day with a sippy. Do that for three days in a row before adding another feeding on.
- Do not coincide initial bottle weaning with stressful events, such as a move, vacation, starting daycare, or birth of a new sibling.
- Offer lots of praise and positive reinforcement when your child uses a sippy/cup instead of a bottle.
- Offer other forms of comfort: many times caregivers will first turn to a bottle when a baby is upset, when they might not even be hungry at all. Offer other forms of comfort, like singing, rocking, or a security blanket first.
- Go cold turkey and have a farewell ceremony: For some toddlers, you may just need to ditch the bottle cold turkey. Involve your toddler and “send” their bottles away. Explain to them that they are a “big girl/boy” now and don’t need bottles anymore.
Bottles and pacifiers are beneficial for babies and parents as they provide nourishment, satisfy baby’s natural sucking instinct, and can provide comfort and security. However, the long-term use of bottles and pacifiers can potentially lead to dental issues, such as crooked teeth, misalignment of the jaw, and baby bottle tooth decay.
You can prevent related dental issues by weaning your child from a pacifier by the age of two and from the bottle by 18 months. By weaning early on, you and your baby will still be able to reap the benefits of bottles and pacis without harming your child’s smile.
Did your child have dental issues from overuse of a bottle or pacifier? Share your experiences with us in the comments and be sure to share this post with other new parents.