Dec. 26, 2001 -- For decades, moms have been told that pacifiers are harmless helpers: they let infants and toddlers soothe themselves without damaging teeth. Now a new study shows that pacifiers can cause improper bites -- just like thumb sucking.
Researchers at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry studied 372 children who sucked their thumb or a pacifier from birth through age 4. Those who sucked their thumb were more likely to have protruding front teeth. But those who sucked a pacifier were more likely to have misaligned top and bottom jaws, a condition called cross bite.
Overall, in the toddlers who stopped the habit by age 1, only about 6% developed a cross bite in the back of the mouth. Twice as many -- 13% -- developed a cross bite if they continued until age 2 or 3. And 20% developed a cross bite if they still sucked a pacifier or thumb at age 4.
The researchers say they'll continue the study to see if the cross bites persist after the children lose their baby teeth. In the meantime, though, they suggest you gently wean your toddler off a pacifier by 24 months. Infants' instinct to suck has waned by then, and you may be saving your child from braces during their teen years.