While sucking on a dummy can help to settle your baby and help them sleep, many parents are concerned about what effect a dummy may be having on their child’s teeth and mouth.
The good news is that using a dummy in the short term is not harmful to infants, however long term sucking of dummies, fingers or thumbs can cause changes to the teeth and jaws. The younger the age at which a child stops sucking a dummy, the more likely their teeth and jaws will develop normally. If a child is still sucking a dummy when their adult teeth come through, there is a much higher risk of permanent changes to the growth of the teeth and jaws.
Problems caused by dummies
Long-term dummy use may lead to:
incorrect positioning of teeth – upper teeth may be pushed further forward than is ideal, or the top and bottom front teeth may not touch. This can change the way the teeth meet when the child bites and can also affect speech development, especially s and z sounds
mouth breathing – your child may tend to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose
speech and language problems – having a dummy in the mouth may delay children using sounds to communicate, and prevent them from exploring the full range of tongue movements required to make all the speech sounds
tooth decay (especially the front teeth) – if the dummy is dipped in sugary substances
Encourage your child to stop dummy use
Give your child the chance to stop their dummy habit when they are ready. Most children stop sucking habits between the ages of two and four, but you can start the process from around one year of age. If left too long the child can become more attached and it may be harder to stop. Dummy use during play can also stop babbling which is important for speech development.Avoid trying to stop dummy use suddenly, as it can lead to other oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking.
You might start by limiting the use of the dummy, for example only using it at sleep times or at night time. Give plenty of encouragement and persist gently but firmly. It may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. Try to be patient. The first few days without a dummy are likely to be the most difficult.
If the habit continues into primary school years, seek advice from your oral health professional.
Dummy sucking versus thumb or finger sucking
Studies of children who suck their thumb or finger shows they have more difficulty breaking their habit than children who suck a dummy. One advantage of the dummy over finger sucking is that the dummy can be gently taken away when the child goes to sleep. This helps form the habit of sleeping without dummy sucking.
Keeping dummies safe
Never dip dummies in sweet things such as honey, jams or syrups; this can cause tooth decay very quickly.
Follow good hygiene procedures. Dummies may cause infection if they are shared with other children or picked up from the floor.
Check that dummies are in good condition and meet Australian safety approval ratings.
Choosing a dummy
Dummies come in different shapes. The best way to find one that’s right for your baby is just to experiment.
Here are tips to help you choose a dummy for your baby:
Look for a one-piece model with a soft nipple. Dummies made in two pieces can break apart and become choking hazards.
Look for a firm plastic shield with air holes. Check the shield is more than 3 cm across so your baby can’t put the whole thing in their mouth.
If your baby is younger than six months old, choose a dummy that can go into the dishwasher or be boiled.
Check the labelling to make sure you have the right size for your baby’s age. Most dummies are labelled for babies either under or over six months.