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.
Most oral health professionals will tell parents not to be worried about the effects of dummy or thumb and finger sucking while the child still has their baby teeth. However, a child’s teeth and the shape of their mouth may be affected if this behaviour continues when the permanent teeth begin to come through, at around six or seven years of age. Never put anything sweet on a dummy as this can cause severe tooth decay very quickly.
Problems caused by dummies
Long-term dummy use may lead to:
- Incorrect positioning of teeth – upper teeth may be pushed more forward than normal. This can change the way the teeth meet when the child bites.
- Mouth breathing – your child may tend to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose. This is often linked to long-term dribbling.
- Speech and language problems – having a dummy in the mouth may not give children the opportunity to explore the full range of tongue movements to make all the speech sounds and they may have fewer opportunities to use sounds to communicate with a dummy in their mouth.
- Tooth decay (especially the front teeth) – if the dummy is dipped in sugary substances such as honey or jam.
Encourage a child to stop dummy use
Children should be given a chance to stop their dummy habit when they are ready. Most children stop sucking habits between the ages of two and four. At about 12 months of age is thought to be a good time to start to give up a dummy. Trying to stop dummy use suddenly is not recommended, as it can lead to other oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking.
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 thumb or finger suckers show they have a greater problem in breaking their habit than dummy suckers. 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.
- Avoid sucking your child’s dummy to clean it – this can increase the risk of tooth decay by transferring bacteria from your mouth to your child’s mouth.
- 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.
Things to remember
- Start helping your child to give up the dummy when they are about one year of age. Most children stop sucking habits between the ages of two and four.
- Dummy sucking is not a problem for oral health in the very early years, but can cause teeth and mouth problems if it continues to when the permanent teeth come through (around six or seven years of age).
- Never put anything sweet on a dummy.