It's one of the hardest habits to break and can require a great deal of persuasion: Parents often struggle with weaning their child off a pacifier.

Contrary to popular belief, there are some positive effects that result from sucking on pacifiers. Babies who are offered a pacifier do not sleep as deeply as those who sleep without a pacifier. Pacifier sucking makes it possible for the infant to be aroused from a deep sleep that could result in the stopping of breathing. Pacifiers also increase sucking satisfaction and provide a source of comfort to infants.

However, parents should be aware of the negative effects of pacifier sucking on an infant's oral health. Children should stop using pacifiers by age 2.Up until the age of 2, any alignment problem with the teeth or the developing bone is usually corrected within a 6-month period after pacifier use is stopped. Prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth.

There is also an association between pacifier use and acute middle ear infections (otitis media). Continuous sucking on a pacifier can cause the auditory tubes to become abnormally open, which allows secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear. Transmission of bacteria in secretions would lead to middle ear infections.

Tips and recommendations:
  • Pacifier use should be restricted to the time when the infant is falling asleep.
  • Pacifiers can cause severe lacerations if the shield is held inside the lips.
  • Look for a pacifier with ventilation holes in the shield, as they permit air passage. This is important if the pacifier accidentally becomes lodged in your child's throat.
  • In order to prevent strangulation, do not place a cord around your child's neck to hold a pacifier. Look for pacifiers that have a ring.
  • A symmetrical nipple permits the pacifier to remain in the correct sucking position.
  • Dispose of the pacifier after use; it is not sanitary to keep it or give it away.
Stop Pacifying Preschoolers
  • If your child's heading to preschool this year and is still using a pacifier, now's the time to stop.
  • For children under the age of 1, the continuous sucking action is normal and healthy.
  • However, if parents allow children to continue using a pacifier into toddler years, this action becomes habit instead of a natural instinct and can be detrimental to a child's oral health.
  • Prolonged pacifier use can impede the natural development of teeth, the jaw and normal palate formation. For a child with several baby teeth, pacifier use can cause upper teeth to protrude and lower teeth to jut in.
  • In addition to moving and shifting teeth, studies show that pacifier users are more likely to suffer from acute middle ear infections. Continuous sucking on a pacifier causes the auditory tubes to open abnormally, allowing secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear. This makes the ears more susceptible to infection-causing bacteria.
  • Parents should drop the use of pacifier by the child's first birthday and sippy cups must be used to promote the development of hand-eye coordination and help break the sucking habit.