Pacifiers: Do We REALLY Need Them?

do we need pacifiersThousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, CA

As a new parent, the need to comfort our babies is our top priority. I know for myself as a first timer, we do not always know what to do right away, so we result to the quickest thing that is going to soothe our babies the fastest. That way our anxiety levels can go back down to normal, and we can stop panicking.

A pacifier has become a well-known way of calming crying babies, but is it the best choice for our babies, and do they even really need them?

Some babies can be soothed by being rocked or cuddled, and are content to suck only during feedings. Others just can’t seem to suckle enough, and will even want to suckle when they are not hungry. In fact, studies show that sucking helps calm our babies, relieves stress, and helps them sleep. I have also read that when babies suck, pressure is applied to the roof of the mouth and there is a place right behind our front teeth called the incisive papilla. When pressure is applied to the incisive papilla, hormones such as serotonin are released, which boosts our mood and makes us feel happy. Mission accomplished!

Studies also tell us that the second year of life is the peak time for sucking. But, rest assured, by 2.5 years old, most children suck less and begin to give up the habit all by themselves. Or do they? We all know when a habit is formed, and that it does not just disappear overnight. So, sucking = happy baby = happy parents. Let us talk about the best options to accomplish this need our babies have.

Some children prefer certain things in order to soothe their need to suckle. Some choose blankets, fingers, thumbs, arms, toys, and other objects, even their own tongues. As a dental hygienist and Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist, sucking on any one of these can have some serious negative effects on your child’s development. It not only alters the formation of your child’s mouth and how their teeth come in, but in turn, can also change the way your child’s entire face develops. 

Research states that allowing your child to use a pacifier up to age 4 is ok. Even though by that time, your child’s teeth have already started to come in, and important stages of development have already begun.

One mom on a forum I am a part of stated:

“We visited the dentist today who said that the paci use has caused her to have an open bite. I knew this was happening, but since the dentist never mentioned it before and a lot of research says as long as she gives up the is not by age 4 or so, I hadn’t worried about it. Now it seems that for her oral health, we need to give up the paci.”

The “open bite” she is referring to is the number one cause of pacifier use. In dental terminology, this is called an anterior open bite. This problem can be the result of digit (finger) sucking, or tongue-thrust habit, leading to the under-eruption of the maxillary and mandibular incisor teeth (the upper and lower front teeth).

According to what the mom had stated and the symptoms her daughter was having at the age of 4, shows us the “research” out there stating that pacifier use is ok until a certain age, may not be true after all. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily the case for everyone so if you have a child or even teenager that has a sucking habit, the best choice is to get them in to see an Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist or even your dentist for options to break this habit!

Pacifiers can ultimately end up being the introduction to a life long sucking habit. Again, this is not the case for everyone, but I do see it a lot in patients I treat. This happens because our babies end up relying on an object to soothe them, so when it is taken away, they replace it with a blanket, their thumb, or another object, and it also enhances the “need” to suck. They get used to always having something to suck on and therefore suck more. Thumb sucking has become so common these days that it has become the new norm, yet it is not “normal.” Although common, yes, but it is certainly not “normal.”

So what if when our babies cry we do not shove something in their mouth right away to “soothe” them? The best alternative for our babies is the mother’s breast. The technique babies use when nursing (tongue placement, suck and swallow pattern) is optimal for soothing their need to suckle, comforting them, and ultimately forming their oral and facial development. Now, I do understand, this is not an option for everyone. My view on pretty much anything in life is “everything in moderation.” Balance. So everyone’s balance is going to be different because our lives are not all the same and neither are our babies. That is for sure. 

For those who do not have the option to breastfeed on demand, here are some suggestions for different pacifiers. Some pacifiers that resemble the nipple best are the Nuk. This pacifier nipple is not as long as most, which means it will still require the baby to provide proper tongue placement and a stronger suck in order to get the soothing they need. Another great one I found is called Natursutten. They are 100% natural and make nipples for bottles as well. Have a pacifier on hand but only use it in absolute emergency situations to soothe the babe and only for a limited amount of time. The point of the limited time is to not let your baby become dependent on it and create a habit out of it.

For those who are brave enough to choose not to use a pacifier at all… you GO! I can share my personal experience. I have a 16 month old and have never given him a bottle or pacifier. Knowing what I know and from all the education I have received and searched out on this topic, this choice was on purpose. And, what did he learn to do naturally? Exactly what I wanted him to do! He uses his tongue, pressing it against the roof of his mouth to create suction with his lips together. He only seems to do this when he is sleeping, as research said above, the sucking need helps them sleep. Maybe this is why, I am not entirely sure. I could not believe it, though! I found it fascinating that when I did not give him anything to soothe his need to suckle, he still naturally figured out a way to do it himself AND as an orofacial therapist, this is where we want the tongue to be at all times! Now the question is, will this stick? Only time will tell. I will follow up later with results. Haha!

To come to a conclusion, I’m not saying get rid of the pacifier right now. That would be great, but we both know that will cause a lot of unnecessary headaches for mom and crying for baby. All I am asking is that you think before you decide to put that pacifier in your baby’s mouth. Ask yourself, “Do they REALLY need it?” You will come to realize that they may not need it as often as you think.

Timbrey Lind is an Integrative Dental Hygienist and the Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist at The Connection office located in Agoura Hills, California. She has worked with many patients dealing with the health consequences of a long-term orofacial myofunctional disorder. To learn more about the personalized services Timbrey offers through her comprehensive Myofunctional Therapy program, contact the office by calling (818) 889-0400.

The Connection serves the oral health needs of patients in the Agoura Hills and Westlake Village communities of southern California.

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