Every parent wants what’s best for their baby’s health, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook potential dental health issues. Because your baby doesn’t have teeth at first and will lose their baby teeth, you may assume that decisions you make now won’t affect your child’s overall dental health.
The truth is, you’re going to make some important decisions during this time in your child’s life that can affect their oral health, both immediately and in the future. Take a look at the answers to some important questions about baby and toddler dental health.
Will a Pacifier Make My Baby’s Teeth Crooked?
Whether to use a pacifier is an issue that is often controversial among parents, and there are arguments both for and against the practice. When it comes to the specific question of whether a pacifier will affect your child’s tooth alignment, the answer is that it won’t — at least at first.
Up until around the time your child turns two, the bones in their mouth and jaw are still developing. If pacifier use affects the shape or alignment of their jaw during this time, the issue will usually correct itself within about six months of taking the pacifier away.
However, around the age of two, bone development slows. Any change in mouth shape is more likely to be permanent and may need to be corrected later with orthodontic work. If you choose to use a pacifier for your baby, be prepared to stop pacifier use by age two.
The same logic applies to thumb-sucking, but pacifiers have the advantage of being removable. If your baby needs to suck to self-soothe, pacifiers may be a better choice.
Pacifiers may also decrease the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) because babies who use them don’t sleep as heavily and so are less likely to stop breathing. However, pacifier use is associated with a greater risk of ear infections. Parents should consider all these factors when deciding whether a pacifier is right for their baby.
Do Teething Rings Help?
Teething can be a great source of frustration for both parent and child, and it’s natural to want to find a way to relieve your child’s pain. Teething rings have been around for a long time. Your parents probably used them for you. But do they help?
The answer depends on the teething ring. Some do more harm than good. Stay away from rings that are meant to be frozen. Frozen teething rings are too hard for your child’s gums and can cause bruising. If you want to use cold to help numb your child’s gums, store the ring in the fridge for a little while instead.
Liquid-filled teething rings are also dangerous. Your baby’s new teeth can be sharper than you might think. Your baby could accidentally puncture the ring, which puts them at risk of choking or ingesting liquid that could be contaminated. Skip the amber teething necklaces as well — not only is there no proof that they work, they can choking or strangulation hazard.
Instead, look for firm rubber teething rings that have no small pieces and are free of toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (also called BPA).
What Kind of Sippy Cup is Best?
When your child is ready to give up the bottle, a sippy cup is usually the next step. These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles, and you may be wondering which one is best for your child’s mouth development.
The answer, surprisingly, is that no sippy cup is best. The design of the cup causes the spout to push the tongue and teeth out of place, much like pacifiers and thumb-sucking can. Because children begin to use sippy cups around the time they should be giving up the pacifier or thumb, skip the sippy cup entirely or use it only for a very brief transition period — no more than a month.
Most toddlers don’t need a sippy cup at all — by the time children are ready to wean off the bottle, they can be taught to drink out of a regular cup without choking. If it’s easier for your child (and less messy for you), consider using a cup with a lid and straw.
Because your child is already accustomed to sucking, he or she may find it easier to drink out of a straw than directly out of a cup. Straws also have the added advantage of drawing the liquid to the back of the mouth, away from the teeth, which can help prevent sugar from juice or milk from settling on the teeth and causing cavities.
Remember that your baby should have their first visit with a pediatric dentist around the time they turn one. You should choose a pediatric dentist early, just as you would a pediatrician, so that you’ll have a dentist to call and ask any questions you might have about your baby’s dental health.