Sucking is a normal part of development that is comforting to children well into their first years of life. For centuries, parents have been giving their babies soothing objects to suck on, everything from knotted rags dipped in water or honey to wooden beads or “gum sticks” made of stone, bone or coral.
In 1901, a Manhattan druggist named Christian W. Meinecke applied for a patent for the first modern pacifier which he referred to as “a new and original Design for a Baby Comforter.” Meinecke’s pacifier consisted of an India rubber nipple attached to a disk-shaped shield that kept the nipple from being swallowed by a vigorously sucking infant. Other inventors soon patented variations, and today more than 75 percent of Western babies use a pacifier.
Pacifiers have survived a lot of criticism over the years, such as that they interfere with breast feeding. Also, in some situations, long-term use of a pacifier could cause developing mouths to grow improperly, leading to abnormal tooth development, bite problems and changes in tooth position and jaw alignment.
Today many parents consider pacifiers standard equipment for keeping their babies calm, especially between feedings. So provided pacifier use doesn’t go on too long, there’s little risk of developing pacifier teeth. And pacifiers, in general, can be safely used to provide comfort and reassurance for young babies who need them.
If you choose to offer your baby a pacifier, here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you’re breast-feeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old, and you’ve settled into an effective nursing routine, before offering a pacifier. Offer a pacifier to your baby only after or between feedings.
- If your baby’s not interested in the pacifier, don’t force it. If the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth while he or she is sleeping, don’t pop it back in.
- Choose the silicone one-piece, dishwasher-safe variety, not a pacifier made of two pieces which can pose a choking hazard if it breaks. Choose the appropriate size for your baby’s age and replace pacifiers often.
- Always clean the pacifier thoroughly before you offer it to your baby. Until your baby is 6 months old and his or her immune system matures, frequently boil pacifiers or run them through the dishwasher. After age 6 months, simply wash pacifiers with soap and water.
If you have questions about your baby’s oral care, Dr. Douglas Angell and the dental hygienists at Angell’s Dentistry will be happy to answer them. Angell’s Dentistry is committed to providing our patients of all ages with a beautiful, healthy smile and unmatched dental care. We invite you to visit our website at: www.angellsdentistry.com.