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Pacifier teeth refer to the types of malocclusion (misalignment) that can occur in children after prolonged pacifier use. This is also sometimes referred to as “pacifier teeth.”
Children with pacifier teeth may have an open bite, where the front teeth in the upper and lower jaws do not overlap. They can also develop a posterior crossbite, meaning the lower teeth are positioned outside the upper teeth when the mouth closes.
Babies have a natural sucking reflex that begins in the womb.1 Pacifiers engage that instinct and can increase the well-being of many babies and, in turn, parents.
Pacifiers offer children a sense of security and help them self-soothe when they’re fussy. They can also help babies fall asleep.
During the first year of life, pacifiers can significantly decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2
Pacifiers and thumb-sucking share similar benefits and drawbacks, but with key differences:
The pros of pacifiers include:
The cons include:
Thumb-sucking comes with its own positives and negatives. The pros of thumb-sucking include:
Its cons include:
Here are the most common dental problems associated with pacifier use:
An anterior open bite occurs when the upper and lower teeth slant outwards. This prevents the front teeth from overlapping when the mouth is closed.
The sucking motion associated with pacifiers can encourage a child’s teeth to slant forwards. Studies show that children who suck on pacifiers or thumbs are four times as likely to have an open bite as those who do not.6
An open bite can make tearing food with the front teeth difficult. It can also cause speech impediments.
A posterior crossbite is where the top back teeth are positioned inside the lower back teeth when the mouth is closed. Between 8 and 16 percent of children have a posterior crossbite, some due to pacifier use.
It can cause many issues, including headaches and toothaches, trouble closing the jaw, and cavities.
Overjet is a condition where only the upper teeth slant at an outward angle, jutting far further than the lower teeth. It can complicate chewing, speaking, and even smiling.
Prolonged pacifier use can also cause a baby to develop crooked teeth, tooth gaps, and shape changes to the roof of the mouth. They can even affect a child’s swallowing reflex if left untreated.
According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, “thumb-sucking and pacifier use can lead to dental issues, including incomplete eruption of anterior teeth, mouth breathing habits, poor tongue posture, thrusting of the tongue, speech problems, and a compromised airway that can cause sleep apnea in adulthood. “
The best prevention for misalignments is to wean your baby off pacifiers and thumb sucking at the recommended age of 2 years old.6 Breaking the habit at an appropriate time can prevent pacifier teeth.
You can also use an orthodontic pacifier instead of a conventional one, but it is still important to wean the child from these oral habits at an early age. Studies show the use of orthodontic pacifiers is associated with a lower risk of developing malocclusions.7
Most children naturally end their pacifier habit between the ages of two and four.8
Some pediatric dentists advise starting the weaning process by the time your child turns 2.9 Other sources recommend intervening if your child has not given up the habit by age 3.10
A few best practices to wean your child off their pacifier use are:
If your child has developed pacifier teeth, you will need to seek treatment from an orthodontist. There are many treatment options for correcting malocclusions, including braces, Invisalign, and other appliances.11
Early intervention is likely to have the best result. Talk to a dentist or orthodontist right away if you notice your child developing pacifier teeth.
Pacifier teeth are a preventable and treatable condition that may result from prolonged pacifier use in children past the recommended age.
Misalignments such as an anterior open bite, posterior crossbite, and overjet are possible outcomes.
Weaning children off pacifiers at the appropriate age of 2 can prevent dental malocclusions. However, if not weaned by age 4, orthodontic interventions are available.