Doctor: Pacifier Poses Health Risks for Suri Cruise

It wasn’t high heels this time around that left parents buzzing about the latest photograph of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter Suri – it was actually a pacifier.

Suri, who turns 5 years old in April, was photographed on Sunday sucking on a pacifier, and since then, the photo has left many experts weighing in on whether she is simply too old to be using one.

Although the concept of a pacifier is nothing new — it has been around since the 1300s — and Suri is not the only child her age to still be using a “binky,” there are risks associated with using the oral device for too long.

Texas-based pediatrician and author of Baby 411, Dr. Ari Brown told that there is really only one reason to use a pacifier, and that’s to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says pacifiers do provide some protective effort to reduce SIDS in babies under 1-year-old. There is no benefit of having a pacifier over a year of age," Brown said.

Recommendations on the AAP website also suggest that pacifiers only be used at naptime and bedtime, not walking around on a daily basis. They should be cleaned often, replaced regularly and never be coated in any sweet solution.

To lessen the risk of choking, pacifiers should have ventilation holes and a shield wider than the child’s mouth, at least 1¼ inches in diameter.

Brown said parents who allow their children to use a pacifier at older ages are putting them at a higher risk for ear infections and dental problems, such as an overbite.

"Also older children who continue to use pacifiers tend to be very oral and put other things in their mouth. They don’t explore with hands, but instead put everything in their mouth and are therefore picking up a lot more germs," she said.

In addition, Brown said that children who depend on a pacifier to fall asleep can lower their quality of sleep.

"If the pacifier falls out while they are sleeping, the child wakes up looking for their pacifier, and it causes disrupted sleep," she said.

Brown said a pacifier is not the only way to soothe a child, and becoming reliant on it can be problematic.

"A child as young as 4 to 6 months of age can have the ability to soothe themselves. Other ways can be used, like talking to stuffed animals and singing. Learning how to calm down and self- regulate – and regaining composure is important," she said.

Tom and Katie, like many other parents, may feel anxiety about taking the pacifier away for good, but Brown assures that the older Suri gets, the harder it will be. Parents need to set the limits, and children have a tendency to move on quickly.

Generally, Brown said there are two main reasons parents keep pacifiers for their children, even when they should have out-grown them. First, the parent is afraid of tantrums and it is their strategy that works – or they like to have a baby and are trying to keep their a child as baby.

"The parent needs to grow up with the child," she said.