Can prolonged pacifier, or feeding bottle use, also cause harm to the teeth?

The Short answer is yes

Thumb sucking, pacifier use, and prolonged feeding bottle use are all common habits that many infants and Toddlers enjoy.  While these habits may provide comfort and soothing for little ones, unfortunately if they continue into childhood problems can develop. This is because thumb sucking, pacifier use and drinking from a feeding bottle can all pose risks to your child’s dental health and development if continued long term. In this blog, we will compare the risks associated with these three habits.


Thumb Sucking:

Thumb sucking is a natural habit that many infants develop. Often babies begin thumb sucking while in the womb. The habit is associated with the infant’s sucking reflex. The desire to suck is essential for babies. Sucking not only enables them to feed, it also provides a sense of comfort and security for the baby. However, prolonged thumb sucking can cause dental problems such as misaligned teeth, an open bite, and a narrow upper jaw. It can also lead to speech problems, as the child may have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds.

The main risks associated with thumb sucking is the pressure it can place on the child's teeth and jaw, particularly if the child is an active thumb sucker. The constant pressure can cause the teeth to shift out of alignment, leading to crooked teeth and bite problems. The longer the child continues to suck their thumb, the greater the risk of dental problems.


Pacifier Use:

Many parents believe that it is better for their baby to use a pacifier rather than suck its thumb. Pacifiers are a popular aid used to soothe infants and young children but of course, unlike the thumb, a pacifier can be removed. Like thumb sucking, pacifier use can provide comfort and a sense of security for the child. However, pacifiers can also pose risks to dental health and development.

One of the main risks associated with pacifier use is the same as thumb sucking: the constant pressure can cause dental problems such as misaligned teeth and bite problems. Pacifiers can also cause problems with speech development if used for too long. Additionally, pacifiers can increase the risk of ear infections, as they can interfere with the natural drainage of fluid from the ears.


Prolonged Feeding Bottle Use:

Feeding bottles are initially used to provide infants with formula or breast milk. However, prolonged use of a feeding bottle can cause dental problems and other health risks.

One of the main risks associated with prolonged feeding bottle use is dental decay. When a child is continuously exposed to milk or other sugary liquids, the sugars can cause decay in their teeth. This is especially true if the child falls asleep with the bottle in their mouth or if they are given a bottle at bedtime.

Additionally, prolonged feeding bottle use can cause speech problems and delays in development. It can also lead to ear infections, as the milk or other liquids can enter the Eustachian tubes and lead to infection.


Comparing the Risks:

While all three habits can pose risks to dental health and development, the severity of the risks may vary depending on the habit. Thumb sucking and pacifier use can cause similar dental problems, but pacifiers may pose a slightly lower risk of dental decay than thumb sucking. Prolonged feeding bottle use, on the other hand, poses a higher risk of dental decay than either thumb sucking or pacifier use.

Using a bottle for extended periods of time can cause a condition known as "baby bottle tooth decay". This occurs when the child's teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids such as milk, formula, or juice, which can lead to the erosion of tooth enamel and the development of cavities. This is because when a baby falls asleep with a bottle in their mouth, the sugary liquid can pool around the teeth.

All three habits can also lead to speech problems and delays in development, as well as an increased risk of ear infections. However, pacifiers may pose a slightly lower risk of ear infections than the other two habits.


Preventative Steps

To prevent these issues, it is recommended that parents limit pacifier use and encourage their child to start using a cup for liquids from around 6 months of age. It's also important to avoid giving sugary drinks in bottles and to brush the child's teeth regularly, as well as taking the child to regular dental check-ups.

It's important to note that the negative effects of bottles and pacifiers on dental development are usually only a concern if they are used for prolonged periods of time, beyond the age of 1 or 2. These habits mainly pose a risk to the child’s first set or milk teeth. By limiting their use and practicing good dental hygiene, the risks can be minimized. Thumb sucking however becomes more of a problem when adult teeth cut through,



In conclusion, thumb sucking, pacifier use, and prolonged feeding bottle use are all common habits that can provide comfort and soothing for infants and young children. However, these habits can also pose risks to dental health and development, as well as other health risks such as speech problems and ear infections.

 It is important for parents and caregivers to monitor these habits and take steps to minimize their risks. This can include limiting the use of pacifiers and feeding bottles, and encouraging the child to stop thumb sucking as early as possible, certainly by age 4. Regular dental check-ups can also help to identify any potential problems and prevent them from becoming more serious. By taking these steps, parents and caregivers can help to ensure the oral health and well-being of their children.






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