Why they matter
“When a baby repeatedly sucks on a pacifier or finger over a long period of time, the upper front teeth may begin to tip outward or not come in properly,” explains Edward Moody, DDS, president of the Ameri-can Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and private practice pediatric dentist in Morristown, Tennessee. “Crooked teeth or bite problems can also occur with prolonged sucking and may result in the child needing significant orthodontic treatment later to correct the problem.” To ensure your baby is on track for proper development, the AAPD advises paying a visit to baby’s pediatric dentist by age 1 or when her first tooth appears.
When to wean
“The earlier a child can stop a sucking habit, the less chance there is that the habit will lead to orthodontic problems,” notes Moody. “Remember that the sucking instinct is normal for infants and young children, and understand that most children will naturally stop on their own. If a child does not stop by herself, the habit should be discouraged after age 3.”
What not to do
“The AAPD recommends encouraging new babies to suck on pacifiers instead of thumbs or fingers for comfort because a pacifier habit tends to be easier to stop down the road and at an earlier age,” says Moody. Also, remember to never dip a pacifier in anything sweet, which could lead to serious tooth decay, he warns.