Babies and Binkies!
Parents often ask me if they should introduce a pacifier to their newborns or not. In this post, I’ll share with you my experience as a parent of a Binkioholic little girl and will shed some light on the guidelines by the authorities in the world of pediatric dentistry.
Babies suck even when they are not hungry, it’s a natural reflux because it gives them security and comfort. Some babies start sucking their thumb or finger before they are born. When an infant is sucking they actually release a chemical into their blood stream that reduces stress. Consider this nature’s built in mechanism for inspiring a newborn to go through the hassle and work of sucking that makes sure they get nutrition that they need (mom’s milk). On a separate note, even though it is still unknown why and how pacifiers reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), there is a consistent protective effect from pacifier suckling. Somehow, kids who have a binkie habit have less incidence of going to sleep and never waking up…the worse nightmare for many of us paranoid new parent.
My first born had a very bad case of reflux and was very unhappy most of the time. We introduced the pacifier to her once we were sure she had mastered latching and to avoid nipple confusion when she was 10 days old. Whenever she was upset (which was 80% of the time) or when she would stick her curled up little fingers in her mouth (which was the other 20% of time it seems) my wife and I would offer the pacifier to her. Sure enough, she was comforted by the binkie and our little one didn’t develop the very challenging habit of thumb sucking. You see, breaking a pacifier habit is much easier that a thumb sucking habit. It gets a little difficult to take someone’s thumb away from them 🙂 Once she was about a year old the risk of SIDS was no longer an issue and we stopped encouraging the pacifier to her before it would turn into a habit that we wouldn’t be able to easily break. I’m sure all the parents with 2 and 3 year old kids will attest to the fact that removing a paci from a kid deep in the “terrible twos” is like trying to manicure an African lion. Someone’s gonna get hurt.
This is what the AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) recommends:
In the pacifier-versus-thumb debate, the AAPD recommends the pacifier over the thumb to comfort a new born. The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less chance the habit will lead to orthodontic problems.
Sucking on a thumb, finger, or pacifier is normal for infants and young children; most children stop on their own. If a child does not stop by herself, the habit should be discouraged before age three.
Thumb, finger and pacifier sucking all can affect the teeth essentially the same way. If a child repeatedly sucks on a finger, pacifier or other object over long periods of time, the upper front teeth may tip outward or not come in properly. Other changes in the tooth position and jaw alignment also may occur.
Some oral changes caused by sucking habits continue even after the habit stops. Prolonged sucking can create crooked teeth or bite problems. Early dental visits provide parents with information and guidance to help their children stop their habit before they affect the developing permanent dentition
A pediatric dentist is typically trained to encourage, approach, and direct a child to stop their habit. This advice, coupled with support from parents, helps many children quit. If this approach does not work, a pediatric dentist may recommend behavior modification techniques or an appliance that serves as a reminder for children who want to stop their habits.
Dr J is a board certified pediatric dentist, serving his hometown in San Diego at one the most respected specialty practices, Scripps Pediatric Dentistry. He is an honors graduate of UC Berkeley, and UCLA School of Dentistry. His specialty training was completed as Chief Resident at UNC, one of only 2 three year pediatric programs in the US. He is an associate professor at UCLA in pediatric dentistry and on staff at Rady Children’s Hospital. He is also a proud father to two girls.