Is cleaning a pacifier with the mouth harmful?
SUMMARY: Oral health for kids is an important concern for parents, and new research questions common practices for infants.
Posted: May 7, 2013
For years, health officials have warned parents that sharing utensils or cleaning a baby's pacifier with their mouth spreads harmful germs, but new research is now showing that it can come with some benefits. According to a study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, babies may be protected against allergies if their parent sucked on the child's pacifier. Parents who did this had children that were less prone to develop asthma, eczema and food allergies. However, there are negative side effects from practicing this, such as bad breath and other oral health issues in kids.
The study was published on May 6 in the journal Pediatrics and found that children whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them experienced lower rates of allergies and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that triggers allergic response than those whose parents rinsed or boiled their pacifiers.
Researchers examined a group of 184 Swedish infants, none of whom were born prematurely. Of those children, 80 percent of their parents already had certain types of allergies. The children studied were tested at 18 months for food and histamine allergies and then again at the age of three. During the first year, parents kept detailed diaries of children's ailments and medications. Once the children turned six months old, the parents were questioned whether they cleaned their children's pacifiers with their mouth or by rinsing them. Of the children partaking in the study, 75 percent used a pacifier during the first six months of their lives. Parents who reported at least occasionally sucking on the pacifier to clean it had children who were 88 percent less likely to have asthma and 63 percent less likely to have eczema.
"It's a very interesting study that adds to this idea that a certain kind of interaction with the microbial environment is actually a good thing for infants and children," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times. "I wonder if the parents that cleaned the pacifiers orally were just more accepting of the old saying that you've got to eat a peck of dirt. Maybe they just had a less 'disinfected' environment in their homes."
Some health officials question whether this practice would transmit harmful bacteria that causes dental cavities to their children, but others believe that these germs would be spread simply by kissing children or being around them. A doctor who conducted salivary research at the University of Washington told The Times that saliva also contains enzymes, proteins and electrolytes.
A child's oral health
Oral health for kids is extremely important because tooth decay is very common in young children. Parents who suck on their children's pacifier run the risk of causing bad breath in toddlers and other oral health issues because they are spreading bacteria. Tooth decay affects children more than any other chronic infectious disease and can even cause issues with eating and speaking. Although children lose their baby teeth, not promoting healthy habits at a young age can lead to similar ailments as an adult.
If parents choose to practice this, they should consider taking extra precautions to ensure there are no issues with their teeth and gums. Parents could opt for dental sealants?, which protect a child's teeth against decay, while promoting good practices. Children tend to learn about proper oral health care from their parents, so they should make sure that kids are brushing and flossing twice a day and drinking plenty of water to rinse away food particles and bacteria.