Sucking a dummy can help relax and settle babies but many parents are concerned about the effect of a dummy on their child’s teeth and mouth.
For many children sucking a dummy, thumb or finger can cause changes to the teeth and jaws. The younger a child stops the more likely their teeth and jaws will correct the growth problems naturally. If children are still sucking their dummy, thumb or finger when the adult teeth come through there is a much higher risk of permanent changes to the growth of the teeth and jaws.
Never put anything sweet on a dummy as this can cause severe tooth decay very quickly.
When making the decision to use a dummy, it is best to make sure breastfeeding is fully established first.
Problems caused by dummies
Long-term dummy use may lead to:
- incorrect positioning of teeth – upper teeth may be pushed more forward than normal, or the top and bottom front teeth do 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 such as honey or jam.
Encouraging a child to stop using a dummy
It is generally thought that around 12 months of age is a good time to begin the process of helping your child to give up the dummy. The longer your child uses a dummy the more attached to it they may become, and the harder they may find it to give up. You might start by limiting the use of the dummy, for example only giving it to your child at sleep times.
Trying to stop dummy use suddenly is not recommended, as it can lead to other oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking. Most children will give up sucking habits between the ages of two and four.
Give plenty of encouragement and persist gently but firmly. It may take a number of 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 fingers show they have a greater problem in 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 severe 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.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Dental Health Services Victoria
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