Binkie Bacteria


Binkies. Pacis. Nu-nus and bo-bos, nookies and nummies, and in some regions, dummies. Baby pacifiers go by lots of different names. But if you’re the parent of an infant, they may go by another name: life saver.

That’s an exaggeration, of course — pacifiers aren’t likely to actually save your life or that of your young child. They do, however, stop the screaming, which any parent of a child that age will tell you is close enough to the same thing. So when the baby is fussy and the pacifier drops on the floor, that’s a problem — few parents will pick a dirty paci off the ground and return it directly to the baby’s mouth. A dropped binkie is fine if you’re at home and have a half-dozen spares, but what about when you’re on the go? Some parents will go to extreme measures to find a solution. Those parents will “clean” the pacifier themselves, the only way they can — by sucking on the nu-nus themselves.

Gross? Maybe. Is it a good idea? It depends on which health organization you ask.

In May of 2013, Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Association of Pediatrics, published a study (available here) conducted by researchers at Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. The study aimed to see what happened to the children whose parents mouth-washed their dirty pacifiers instead of washing them with hot water and/or detergent. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if those children were slower to develop allergies than the children whose pacifiers were sanitized. There’s little question that, if a parent were to take a pacifier out of his or her mouth and stick it in baby’s, the bacteria and other microbes in the parent’s mouth are going to be transferred to the infants. But not all microbes are bad, and, the study suggested, introducing some of these foreign bacteria to a young baby may actually have positive effects. The Huffington Post summarized their findings:

When the babies were six months old, 65 parents reported “cleaning” their pacifiers by sucking on them. Most parents also said they rinsed pacifiers with tap water.The children were then brought in for allergy testing at 18 and 36 months of age.

At the first visit, 46 of them had eczema and 10 had asthma symptoms. Kids whose pacifiers had been sucked on by parents were 63 percent less likely to have eczema at 18 months and 88 percent less likely to have asthma, compared to the children of parents who didn’t use that cleaning technique.

By 36 months, the difference had gone away for asthma. Parental pacifier sucking was still tied to a 49-percent lower chance of a child having eczema.

Not conclusive by any means — but not bad. Until another health care group stepped in: the American Dental Association. In response to the Pediatrics study, the ADA put out a press release warning of another side effect of parental saliva — cavity-causing bacteria. The ADA warned that the saliva in our (adult) mouths can lead to early tooth decay if it gets into the mouths of our little kids, even if their teeth have just begun to erupt. That can happen as early as four months, so caveat binkie self-cleaner.

Bonus Fact: Another way parents can spread cavity-causing bacteria to their kids? Kissing them. On the mouth, that is. The bacteria that causes cavities, Streptococcus mutans, can make its way to baby via any saliva-to-saliva contact, so kisses (and sharing eating utensils) are a known culprit. 

From the ArchivesInside the Button: The bacteria in your belly button may tell a lot about you.

Related: This should really be called a girraffcifier (or something like that).