Pacifiers provide an important function for infants who suckle, especially when it is time to abandon this habit, says a local dentist.
"Dentists prefer to see babies who are sucking pacifiers rather than their thumb or finger because pacifiers generally are discontinued more easily and at an earlier age," says Michele Bogacki, D.D.S., a general dentist who practices on Chicago's North Side. "Studies show that most children quit a pacifier habit before the age of three years."
A pacifier can be given to or taken away from the child when appropriate. "Parents can use a pacifier to wean the child when the time is right," says Dr. Bogacki. "Most children do not replace the pacifier with their own thumb or finger."
Dr. Bogacki offers the following guidelines for the safe use of pacifiers:
- Never tie a pacifier around the child's neck. "Obviously, this is dangerous and can cause the child injury if it gets caught on something," says Dr. Bogacki.
- Inspect pacifiers frequently for wear or deterioration. "Discard pacifiers if the bulbs have become sticky, swollen or cracked," says Dr. Bogacki.
- Never substitute a bottle nipple for a pacifier. "Hard sucking may pull a bottle nipple from its cap and pose a choking danger," says Dr. Bogacki.
Dr. Bogacki notes that two features are important in selecting a pacifier:
- A symmetrical nipple and shield shape designed to be used with either side up so that it is always in the correct sucking position for the baby.
- A textured shield surface to prevent skin irritation by allowing more air circulation.
Dentists agree that for the first few years, parents generally need not worry about non-nutritive sucking habits, except when a baby bottle is used as a pacifier rather than a feeding mechanism. Non-nutritive sucking helps calm babies and toddlers. Sucking habits have not been showed to contribute to other habit-forming behaviors, nor are they considered a sign of insecurity.
Sucking is a natural reflex that begins even before a baby is born. Non-nutritive sucking provides the infant with comfort, pleasure and security. However, frequent and intense sucking over a long period can cause problems with tooth alignment and speech patterns.
"I find that parents have a lot of questions about pacifiers, thumb-sucking and breast-feeding," says Dr. Bogacki. "I urge patients to ask their dentists about each of these issues so they know what to expect and how to provide the best care for their child during these interesting phases in a baby's development."
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