As a children’s dentist I am often asked, “Will using a dummy damage my child’s teeth?” Infact it’s a subject many of you are searching for here on toothfairyblog. Prolonged pacifier use is also a real hot topic of late, in most thanks to THAT image of Harper Beckham. Is it any surprise that the story of Harper using a dummy at the age of 4 went viral? Probably not. However, I am sure that there were many parents who were secretly able to relate to the predicament in which the Beckham’s found themselves. So are dummies a parenting godsend or unnecessary evil?
What are the benefits of using a dummy?
Babies are soothed by the sucking action and they like to suckle ALOT, especially in the first few months. Dummies can be a real sanity-saver, and may be helpful, especially in the early months as a baby learns to soothe and settle to sleep. There is also evidence that babies who use a dummy to go to sleep at nap and bedtime until their first birthday are less likely to die of SIDS.
Prolonged dummy use can be associated with dental and speech disturbances and babies that use them continually are more likely to get middle ear infections. But what do we mean by ‘prolonged’? In truth it is difficult to say. I have seen dental disturbances such as anterior open bite (where the front teeth are permanently held apart, even when the back teeth bite together) in children as young as one. However, it does depend on many things including how often the dummy is used – the more it is used, the increased likelihood of disturbances. Other dental problems can include the top teeth sticking out more (we call this an increased overjet). However, all is not lost – there is some good news. As children are often growing quite rapidly at this age, if you can stop the dummy, you should see an improvement in your child’s teeth fairly quickly as the teeth can grow into their correct position, unhindered by a dummy blocking the way!
When should I try to wean my child from his/her dummy?
This is a really personal choice. For some lucky parents the child will just give up the dummy without intervention. Unfortunately, in my experience, these children are in the minority and so parents are faced with the decision of when to intervene and risk upsetting the status quo with their baby’s sleep. The NHS recommends stopping dummy use by the age of one in order to minimise the risk of untoward effects. So what do I advise? I always think is better to prevent a problem rather than manage the effects so for this reason, if you feel able to work towards losing the dummy before your child’s first birthday, then that is ideal. Realistically, if you can limit and then stop use before they turn two then you should be fine from a dental perspective. I really don’t recommend use past this point, although there are parents I know who will disagree!
Tips for stopping the dummy
If you have decided to stop dummy use before your child’s first birthday, your job should, in theory, be easier as a child has yet to grow a true emotional attachment to their dummy. Many parents report that going ‘cold turkey’ or gradually reducing dummy use at this age was actually met with far less resistance than might have been anticipated, albeit with a few nights of more broken sleep and shorter daytime naps. You might start by only giving the dummy for naps and bedtime, then bedtime only before phasing out it’s use completely.
After the age of one, you will need to employ a different strategy as your child will have become more emotionally attached to their dummy, and taking it away may be met with as much resistance as losing a favourite toy or teddy. If your child is old enough, you should prepare them, perhaps with books or just talking about what is about to happen. I have friends who asked the children to throw away their own dummy when they were ready (this gives them control) and have never looked back. I have also read about parents of older children leaving the dummies for the dummy fairy who in turn leaves a gift after the first dummy-free night. I guess it depends on your own parenting style – you can be as creative as you feel comfortable. The most important thing is that rewards used as positive reinforcement should be immediate and not delayed in very young children to maximise their effect.
Dummy dos and don’ts
- Never dip a dummy in anything sweet to encourage your child to accept it – this is a recipe for disaster as far as teeth are concerned as sugar is in direct contact with the teeth for a prolonged time.
- Do not ‘clean’ a dummy by putting it in your own mouth – this can transfer bacteria which would not normally be in your child’s mouth.
- If you want to allow your child a dummy after the age of one, consider a thin necked pacifier which may reduce the likelihood of dental disturbances.
- Try to minimise dummy use to when it is really needed, rather than providing it out of habit. It should make your life easier in the long run.
Toothfairyblog’s psychologist, Emma, says,
It’s important not to use guilt and shaming of your child when you talk about stopping the dummy, after all its not their fault that they enjoy and get comfort from this habit. Try swapping the dummy for something like a teddy or blanket. You could introduce this before removing the dummy to create an alternative attachment.