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Lengthy pacifier use can lead to speech problems

October 21, 2009 |  6:00 am

Pacifiers Questions on whether a baby should be given a pacifier or allowed to thumb-suck have existed for generations. The concerns center on whether sucking habits will impact tooth alignment and speech development. The latest evidence, published today, suggests that long-term pacifier use, thumb-sucking and even early bottle use increases the risk of speech disorders in children.

The study looked at the association between sucking behaviors and speech disorders in 128 children, ages three to five, in Chile. Delaying bottle use until at least 9 months old reduced the risk of developing a speech disorder, researchers found. But children who sucked their thumb, fingers or used a pacifier for more than three years were three times as likely to develop speech impediments. Breastfeeding did not have a detrimental effect on speech development.

The authors of the study noted that other research suggests that use of a pacifier or thumb-sucking for less than three years also increases the risk of a speech problem. The sucking motion may change the normal shape of the dental arch and bite. Breastfeeding, however, seems to promote positive oral development.

"The development of coordinated breathing, chewing, swallowing and speech articulation has been shown to be associated with breastfeeding. It is believed that breastfeeding promotes mobility, strength and posture of the speech organs," the authors wrote.

The study is published in the open access journal BMC Pediatrics.

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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