Many parents have used pacifiers throughout history to help babies and toddlers self-soothe and regulate their emotions. This trend continues today, with over half of the world's parents using pacifiers to calm fussy babies.
Also known as soothers, these baby baubles give many tired mothers a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, if misused or for too long, these devices can negatively affect babies developing mouths.
In this article, we’ll explore the phenomenon of pacifier teeth. We’ll look at how it progresses and how parents or caregivers can minimize the effects of pacifiers on their children’s dental health.
Read on to learn the potential risks and benefits of using pacifiers so you can make an informed decision for your child’s well-being.
What Does The Term Pacifier Teeth Mean: Overview
Pacifier teeth are the name given to a dental condition observed in babies and young children who have used pacifiers for an extended period. Depending on the child and the severity of the issue, pacifier teeth can look like overbites, open bites, teeth tilted forward, or a misaligned jaw.
These conditions are related to the pressure exerted on a baby’s jaw and developing teeth as they suck continuously to soothe themselves with their pacifier. Ways to mitigate the effects of baby pacifier teeth are to limit the time the child spends using the pacifier or, on some occasions, choose different types of soothers for the child to use.
What Causes Pacifier Teeth?
As a baby’s jaw develops, it is highly vulnerable to misalignment or malformation when a continuous force is applied to the tendons and muscles around the joints and teeth.
Considering that young children often use a pacifier for years, it stands to reason this would significantly affect the shape of their jaws and mouths.
When a baby uses a pacifier much beyond the age of two or three, several changes can occur, resulting in pacifier teeth that present in several ways.
- Children’s upper front teeth can tilt forward, and the lower front teeth can tilt backward, resulting in an overbite or an open bite.
- Misalignment of the jaw from pacifier use can be so pronounced that children can struggle with speech, eating, and breathing.
- Narrowing or elongating the roof of a child’s mouth can occur from prolonged use of a soother, setting up the child for long-term dental and oral health issues.
Of course, other factors come into play when determining the severity of issues caused by pacifiers. These factors include age, individual development, frequency, and length of pacifier use.
What Do Pacifier Teeth Look Like?
Let’s look at some pictures that better illustrate different types of pacifier teeth.
Sucking on a pacifier can often cause the jaw and teeth to develop into an open bite formation.
An overbite is often seen in children who use the pacifier past the recommended time frame.
Soothers don’t just alter bite patterns; they can affect every part of the mouth’s anatomy, as seen in this child’s narrow palate.
Underbites are another common form of pacifier teeth.
Early Signs Of Pacifier Teeth Problems
Well before you see any of the issues from the pictures above in your kiddo, you may get some early warning signs that it may be time to limit soother time. Some of these signs include:
When your child sucks on their pacifier, saliva may get trapped against their teeth. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria and can result in tooth decay. You can recognize the start of this process when you see brown or white spots on your kid’s teeth.
Other indicators of tooth decay also include sensitivity to hot or cold foods and signs of pain when chewing. These signs indicate your child may be at risk for developing pacifier teeth.
Your baby’s gums can become red, inflamed, and irritated by the prolonged rubbing they experience sucking on their soother. This inflammation can make your child’s gums sore and, if left untreated, can lead to gum disease.
Signs of gum irritation in your child should put you on alert for the possibility they could develop pacifier teeth down the road if you don’t change their pacifier habits.
Abnormal Tooth Positioning
The constant pressure and sucking motion from using a pacifier can cause your child’s teeth to shift over time. If you notice teeth that seem misaligned, this indicates that pacifier teeth are just around the corner.
What Types Of Dental Issues Can Pacifiers Cause?
Now that you’ve got an idea of what pacifier teeth can look like, we will break down each issue pacifiers can cause to help you stay on the lookout. Hopefully, this will help prevent any problems in your child’s mouth before they occur.
A pacifier can interfere with your child’s bite alignment in a couple of ways. First, because of the constant pressure exerted on the roof of their mouths, the soft palate will change in shape over time, often becoming narrower. This change in form then shifts the structure of the rest of the mouth.
Next, because of the constant sucking, your toddler’s jaw muscles will become weaker in some areas and stronger in others, creating an imbalance that will cause the jaw to grow out of its natural alignment.
We’ve already established that a pacifier can cause the teeth and jaw to shift out of their normal position. As a result of this change in structure, gaps, and spaces are created between some teeth, where other teeth may be pushed together.
These structural changes create the perfect place for gathering food particles and bacteria. As any mother knows, cleaning your child’s mouth can be challenging if they don’t brush their teeth regularly or if they can’t get between teeth that are too close together when they do. This allows the bacteria to remain on the teeth and multiply.
Another point to remember is that some soothers are designed to hold liquid or sugar. When given to a child during naptime, this allows the “sugar bugs” to accumulate around their teeth and work away at the tooth, resulting in cavities and tooth decay.
While not all children who use a pacifier develop an overbite, it is a fairly common condition seen in children who use them. The overbite gradually forms as the constant sucking pressure slowly causes your child’s top front teeth to move forward and become more pronounced.
At the same time, your child’s lower jaw will start to shift back to accommodate for the imbalance, and as your child continues to suck on their soother, this shift can worsen over time.
As in overbites, sucking on a pacifier for extended periods can cause your child's jaw muscles to form around the object. The front teeth may shift up or out, preventing the top and bottom teeth from meeting naturally.
An open bite can cause many problems. It can make it hard for your child to speak, eat or breathe properly and can contribute to gum disease and tooth decay. It should be noted that an open bite can also be caused by thumb-sucking, tongue-thrusting, or other genetic conditions.
A child constantly sucking on a pacifier may affect their ability to form certain sounds. When learning to speak, tongue placement and mouth muscles are critical in sound formation, and the pacifier can interrupt the development of these critical components to speech.
Excessive pacifier use can affect a child’s speech by manifesting in a lisp, difficulty pronouncing certain consonants, and general problems with clarity and enunciation.
As you’ve already read, the relentless pressure created by sucking on a pacifier can cause the structures of the teeth and jaw to develop incorrectly. This is very evident when children present with buck teeth.
These large tooth formations are formed from constant force pressing the front teeth forward and making them protrude from the rest of your child’s teeth. Like with an open bite, buck teeth can also be caused when your child sucks their thumb or fingers past age two.
If left untreated, buck teeth can cause problems with speech and increase your child’s risk of developing tooth decay.
Misformed Roof Of The Mouth
Also known as the palate, the roof of the mouth is a critical structure for breathing and speech. Because the bones and muscles of the top of the mouth are still developing, they are vulnerable to malformation when subjected to external forces.
A pacifier can push the palate upward and outward, causing it to be misaligned and creating a cascade effect with the rest of the jaw and teeth.
Ways To Use Pacifiers That Won’t Result In Pacifier Teeth
Pacifiers aren’t all bad; they have many benefits, like helping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and helping little ones self-soothe so they can sleep. You can follow a few tips when using a pacifier with your children to ensure you reap the rewards but don’t suffer negative consequences like pacifier teeth.
Get The Right Size Of Pacifier
When choosing the correct soother for your child, you may feel like goldilocks, trying to find one that is just right. A too-small pacifier will make your baby suck harder so it doesn’t fall out of their mouth, which can increase the pressure on their dental structures.
Likewise, a soother that is too big will also increase the pressure on your child's teeth and jaw, presenting yet another opportunity for misalignment. Finding a pacifier that fits the size and shape of your child’s mouth will help alleviate some of these problems.
Consider Orthodontic Pacifiers
These special soothers are designed to mimic the shape of a mother's breast and nipple to recreate the breastfeeding action. The nipple of the pacifier is intentionally flatter, allowing the baby to latch on more naturally with their teeth and tongue.
This “natural design” eliminates much of the pressure regular soothers place on developing jaws and teeth. The added bonus to orthodontic pacifiers is that they help children develop their muscles properly.
Wean Your Child Off Pacifiers Early
Unfortunately, no consensus exists on when to wean your child off their pacifier. According to Healthline, some family doctors advise reducing soother use anywhere between 6 and 12 months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends stopping pacifier use anywhere between 2-4 years of age. In contrast, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry lists three years of age as the outer limit for soother use.
Trust your instincts and factor in your child’s age, development, and size when determining the best time to wean them off their pacifier.
Use Pacifiers Only For Naps And Nighttime
Limiting your child’s pacifier use strictly to naps and bedtime will limit the time they spend sucking on it, reducing the pressure that can cause misalignment of their teeth and jaw.
If your child uses their pacifier often throughout the day, you can change this by gradually reducing their daytime use. Once you’ve established the pacifier is to be used only for sleep times, stick to the routine so your child can learn it and feel secure in knowing what to expect.
Regularly Check The Pacifier For Fit
You must check your child’s pacifier to ensure it still fits their mouth as they change and grow. You can also monitor their speech and dental development, which will give you an indication if their soother may be interfering with your child’s oral health.
Also, remember to check the pacifier for any defects, rips, or general wear and tear, as these irregularities may increase pressure on your baby’s mouth and promote malformations.
Don’t Add Sweet Foods To Your Child’s Pacifier
As tempting as it may be, you should never add sugar or sweet juices or foods to your baby's soother. While this may help your child calm down in the short term, the long-term consequences could be severe.
When the sugar on the pacifier can pool around the teeth and remain there for hours, the perfect bacterial breeding ground is created for tooth decay and gum disease.
It is also not a great idea to develop an association between comfort and food for your baby, as this could lead to harmful eating patterns as they age.
How To Fix Pacifier Teeth: Best Options
If your child has used their pacifier too long and they’ve already developed pacifier teeth, there are many options you can consider to remedy the problem and give them back their beautiful smiles.
Prolonged sucking on pacifiers can cause misalignment of teeth, but luckily you can strengthen teeth with braces, which gently pull teeth back into alignment. Made of metal or ceramic wires and bonded to your teeth by glue, mounts are attached to an “archwire,” which is slowly adjusted to keep gradual pressure on the teeth and jaw.
The typical time to wear braces is from 12 months to 2 years. When the treatment is completed, it will improve the appearance of pacifier teeth damage along with bite function and alignment.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays worn over the teeth. Nearly invisible, these molds help gently pull teeth back into alignment. Aligners differ from braces because you can remove them for brushing and eating.
Effective at treating most mild to moderate dental issues, these trays are worn less time than braces, anywhere between 6-18 months. Once the aligners have done their job, retainers are then introduced into the treatment plan.
Teeth Retainers are made of acrylic or wire and come in two types. Fixed retainers are permanent, bonded to the back of the teeth, and left for up to two years. Their job is to prevent the teeth and jaw from sliding back into their original position.
Removable retainers can be worn for only a few hours each day or during sleep. Both types of retainers are essential to ensure the long-term success of the treatment initiated with braces.
A tongue crib is an orthodontic device used to correct overbites, malformed palates, and other pacifier issues by keeping the tongue in the proper position. Made of wire and attached to the molars on either side of the mouth, this contraption is often used with braces or aligners.
The wire in the crib stops the tongue from pushing or thrusting against the front teeth. This decreases the pressure against that part of the jaw and allows it to stay aligned.
A tongue crib can typically be worn for several months to a year or more and should be monitored by a dental professional, just like braces and aligners.
Typically made out of metal, glass, or acrylic, bite blocks are tiny devices your dentist can attach to your front or back teeth. The blocks function to keep the upper and lower teeth in the correct position and, in some cases, to keep your upper and lower teeth from touching when you bite down.
You can use bite blocks along with other orthodontic treatments, typically for anywhere from 6 months to a year, depending on each individual.
Vertical Pull Chin Cups
These cups cradle your chin and are attached to headgear worn outside your mouth. The role of the cup is to provide pressure to the lower jaw, guiding it into its proper position. When the position of the lower jaw is adjusted, overbites and other issues caused by pacifier teeth can be corrected too.
Where chin cups focus on the lower jaw, high-pull headgear focuses on the upper. Consisting of a strap worn around the head and a metal frame that attaches to orthodontic devices inside the mouth, this headgear applies gentle pressure to the upper jaw.
As with the other procedures and devices, high-pull headgear can be worn alone or in combination with other orthodontic equipment to achieve the best results for correcting pacifier teeth.
Surgery may be needed if the dental issues or misalignment caused by sucking pacifiers is severe. Several types of procedures can be performed, depending on the type of degree of deformity.
- Jaw surgery. Used to correct serious cases of pacifier teeth, this surgery is commonly used to reposition both the upper and lower jaw. The result is an improved bite and overall facial appearance.
- Tooth extraction. If more room needs to be created in the mouth to allow for proper bite alignment, or if damaged and decayed teeth need to be removed, tooth extraction surgery will be performed.
- Orthognathic surgery. Also known as jaw surgery, this procedure aligns the upper and lower jawbones, correcting both skeletal and dental irregularities.
Even though dental surgery can be very effective, it is typically considered a last resort after all other treatments have failed.
Just like their name, expanders work to widen the upper jaw to create more space for teeth. They work to correct issues caused by pacifier teeth, like overcrowding or narrowing of the roof of the mouth.
Applying gentle pressure creates more space in the jaw for teeth to grow properly and create a better bite. Expanders are effective but may not be suitable for everyone as they can cause discomfort the first few days after application.
Pacifier Teeth Before And After (images)
The before and after pics below illustrate how effective these orthodontic fixes are for correcting the ill effects of pacifier use.
Let’s learn more about pacifier teeth by answering some frequently asked questions.
Do Pacifiers Mess Up Baby Teeth?
Yes. When babies are allowed to use a pacifier for too long, this can cause problems with the development and alignment of their baby teeth and may require orthodontic interventions later in life.
At What Age Does A Pacifier Affect Teeth?
While there is no clear consensus among experts, pacifiers can start to affect the development and alignment of teeth as early as six months to a year.
Can You Correct Pacifier Teeth?
Yes. Many orthodontic treatments, such as braces, clear aligners, and other devices, can correct damage caused by prolonged pacifier use.
Do Pacifiers Damage Teeth?
Yes. From promoting tooth decay, causing jaw misalignment, and interfering with the proper development of the jaws and teeth, pacifiers can damage teeth if used for too long.
How Do You Tell If A Pacifier Is Messing Up Teeth?
Signs that a pacifier is causing dental problems can be changes in the shape or structure of a child’s jaw, a misaligned bite, or overcrowded teeth.
Are Pacifier Teeth Permanent?
No. Many dental and orthodontic procedures can correct issues caused by pacifier use, although the time required and the number of techniques used may vary from person to person.
Which Pacifier Shape Is Best For Teeth?
Most orthodontic experts recommend pacifiers with nipples that resemble a mother's nipple as the flat formation promotes a natural teeth and tongue position.
What Are The Benefits Of Using A Pacifier?
There are numerous advantages to using a pacifier, including helping children fall asleep, soothing a fussy infant, and helping prevent SIDS.
Although they have many benefits, prolonged pacifier use can cause dental problems like bite problems, jaw deformities, and misalignment, often called pacifier teeth.
Luckily, pacifier teeth can be corrected with braces, aligners, and other orthodontic devices, but the best strategy is to prevent dental issues from developing in the first place.
By choosing the right pacifier shape, limiting its use, and weaning your child off their soother earlier rather than later, you can ensure your child will have a beautiful smile well into adulthood.