All about dummies and teeth

When it comes to whether your child should use a dummy and for how long, there are a number of dental considerations that should be considered. In this article, we will run through what the potential side effects of dummy use might be, the age at which we recommend your child stop using a dummy, and some tips for getting through this challenge.

Does my baby need a dummy?

Dummies and pacifiers are one form of settling strategy that help parents comfort their child. For some babies, sucking on a dummy has a soothing effect but for others, it has none at all.

Like any settling strategy, some babies take to it and some don’t, so it’s up to your personal preference as a parent.

What are the advantages?

In addition to the settling effect, there is a link between dummy use and a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The reason for this is still unknown.

What are the disadvantages?

There are two key disadvantages when it comes to dummy use in babies and toddlers.

  • First, there is a link between dummy use and slightly higher rates of middle ear infections.
  • Second, babies may become reliant on their dummies to sleep so they may get upset if they are lost, misplaced or fall out of their mouths during the night.

When should I introduce it?

If you are breastfeeding, consider waiting until breastfeeding is well established as dummy use may interfere with the initial stages (approximately 4-6 weeks). This is due to the different sucking techniques required on the breast versus a dummy. On the other hand, bottle-fed babies may have a dummy from birth.

Also, it’s best to offer the dummy when you’re sure your baby isn’t hungry, for example, after a feed or between feeds. Older babies who are breastfed should also have no issues.

How to care for and maintain dummies

  • For babies under 6 months, dummies should be sterilised.
  • From 6 months, washing with soap and water is sufficient.
  • Keep clean dummies in a container and away from direct sunlight when not in use. Exposure to sunlight can cause rubber and silicone to deteriorate.
  • Never put it in your own mouth to ‘clean it’ as decay-causing bacteria can be transmitted from parent to child. 
  • Do a dummy check before putting in your baby’s mouth by pulling on the handle and teat to ensure both parts don’t come away from each other.
  • Check the integrity of the nipple regularly and discard when it is getting worn out or broken.
  • Replace dummies regularly due to wear and tear.

For safety reasons, refrain from tying the dummy around your baby’s hand, neck or cot as this can be a choking hazard. Make sure they are tooth-friendly by never dipping them in honey or sweet drinks as this causes tooth decay.

Dental Considerations

Persistent and long term dummy use (beyond about 3 years) can lead to changes in how your child’s teeth may bite or fit together. This may been seen as an ‘openbite’ or ‘overbite’. Occasionally, with long-standing dummy habits that continue into primary school, the adult front teeth can sometimes be poorly aligned. Weaning an older child from a dummy can be a difficult undertaking, and we promise you won’t receive any judgement from us if your child still has one!

Don’t fret if your child is older than three and they’re still using a dummy – the impact on dental alignment is variable, and very much dependent on your child’s growth pattern and facial structure. Persistent dummy (or thumb-sucking) habits beyond 5 years start to cause some worry for us, as catch-up growth is less and orthodontics may be needed.

How do I get rid of a dummy habit?

If your child is now 3 years old or you want to have them stop using a dummy, there are a few techniques to help kick the dummy habit. These can include having the ‘dummy fairy’ leave a toy or certificate, positive reward charts, or a cold-turkey approach. 

Here are some tips and tricks to help you along the way.

  • Choose your timing and avoid periods of big change or stress, for example, soon after the arrival of a new sibling, when toilet training or starting daycare.
  • Talk to your (older) child about why they need to give up the dummy – plant the seed and reinforce.
  • Begin by using it less during the day by placing it somewhere special and only getting it out for the night time sleep routine.
  • Help your child get used to life without the dummy by limiting its use to only certain times and places, for example, for car rides and in the cot only.
  • Start using it less to re-settle your child at night. This can be done gradually as well.
  • Once your child is coping without the dummy for longer periods, set a time and date when the dummy will go.
  • Mark this special occasion with a celebration and reward.
  • It might not be smooth sailing and your child will protest but try not to turn back.

When in doubt, talk to your dentist or Oral Health Therapist. It’s something that we’re always happy to guide you on and sometimes it can be helpful when your child hears the plan from an independent person.