Will using a dummy damage my child’s teeth? Advice from a paediatrician

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A dummy (pacifier) has been used to soothe and comfort babies for over 2000 years.

Recent studies show that at least 75% of babies are offered one in their first year. Parents, however, still have concerns about the use of a dummy. These concerns are legitimate and stem from information shared by various medical resources. Ultimately, when major concerns are addressed, you will need to decide if the pros outweigh the cons or not. 

Why do babies need to suck?

Sucking is a reflex for unborn babies and infants in the first few months of life. We understand that a baby sucks for nutritional purposes. Sucking, however, is also a means for a baby to soothe and comfort itself. A baby uses this reflex to calm itself down during crying, distress, fussiness or when they need to fall asleep. 

A sucking alternative to the breast

A breastfeeding mom will often find the baby sucking on the breast even when the baby has had a good feeding. The baby is not sucking hard enough to extract milk but is simply using the breast as comfort. If the baby cannot access the breast when they need comfort, they resort to sucking their thumb or dummy for comfort. 

Mothers also need relief from the child’s constant demand for the breast for nutrition or comfort. It comes in handy in this very scenario. Breastfeeding experts, however, recommend that a baby should be established on the breast before introducing a dummy. Around three to four weeks of age will be the perfect time to avoid nipple confusion. 

Will using a dummy damage my child’s teeth

Will using a dummy damage my child’s teeth?

Using a dummy on a young child will not damage the teeth. If a child is still sucking it when the adult teeth emerge, then there is a risk that there will be permanent damage to the development of the teeth and jaw. The same goes for sucking the thumb or fingers. All of these can cause changes to the teeth and jaw, but it is a whole heap easier to throw away the dummy than to stop a child sucking his thumb. 

Global dental associations agree that it is normal for a baby or young child to suck a dummy or fingers to satisfy their need for contact and security. Their policies note that they are not likely to affect the teeth or jaw in the long term if the habit stops by the time the child is three years old. 

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Orthodontic dummies: How do I make sure my child’s dummy doesn’t damage their teeth?

If you are concerned about this, I would recommend using an orthodontic dummy. This one is shaped to fit neatly into the palate and doesn’t cause a round open mouth. 

The other important thing is to make sure a child isn’t dependent on it for prolonged periods throughout the day. After 12 months of age, its use should be for sleep time. 

As old as the use of a dummy is, so too will the dummy debate continue. There are advantages to the use of a dummy, but there are certain disadvantages if the habit is allowed to continue into the pre-school years. 

My personal experience with using and chucking the dummy

We found the dummy very useful in our premature daughter, as her suck reflex was extremely weak. 

ALSO READ: Dummy weaning: 6 ways to get your toddler to stop using a dummy

When it came to giving up the dummy, we waited until we were at Kruger Park to announce that “the baby lion needed it more than she did”. We took the opportunity to throw it away. She was 18 months old and the dummy was becoming a fixture in her mouth. She was not happy, but she couldn’t argue if the baby lion had her dummy already! Find your opportune moment, and then stick by your decision. There will be a few tears, especially when the child is tired, but it is worthwhile to persevere. 


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