From the time my twins were newborns, I relied on a dummy to help soothe and comfort them. At a certain point, one of my boys discovered his fingers, but the other was still a sucker (pun intended!) for his dum dum. Of course, I always heard a range of opinions (as new mums do) about whether or not dummies were okay for my baby, and when I should force him to give them up. So, I went with my gut (and what my paediatrician said): I let him use the dummy for sleep or when he was sick, and then at his 3-year checkup, he handed them all over to his doctor like a big boy. It never affected his speech, his bite, his teeth, or his general awesomeness.
So, with that in mind, I talked to paediatric dentists and doctors to find out the real deal with dummy use. Spoiler alert: They’re actually a better option than sucking thumbs or fingers.
Myth #1: You should avoid getting your kid hooked on a dummy.
Truth: While you might think it’s a mistake to even go down the dummy road, experts point out that it’s a reliable way for your baby to soothe himself. “All that sucking is a psychologically nurturing, calming activity, and as a dentist, I would much rather see them suck a dummy because at some point, you can take it away,” explains Robert Delarosa, DDS, a paediatric dentist, and the former president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “Dummy use only becomes a problem if the frequency, intensity, and duration is at a premium.”
He recommends limiting a baby or child’s use of the dummy to when she’s in her cot or bed, or even just resting. “Once your child is mobile and active, she shouldn’t have a dummy in her mouth all of the time,” he warns. He also encourages positive reinforcement of dummy use, framing the cot-only habit as a special treat, rather than a bad, shameful thing.
Another bonus of sleepytime use: It prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends putting a baby down for bed with a dummy because they found it significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.
One caveat: If you’re breastfeeding, wait until a newborn is a couple of weeks old before you introduce the dummy. “You want breastfeeding to be well-established because the mechanism for sucking a dummy is different from the mechanism for latching onto the nipple,” says Dr Wendy Sue Swanson, a paediatrician and author of Mama Doc Medicine.
Myth #2: Some dummies are better than others.
Truth: While many dummies claim to be superior for children’s teeth, there hasn’t been enough peer review research to deem one better than another, especially since all kids suck on their dummies with different parts of their mouth, Dr. Delarosa explains. That being said, make sure you’re using an age appropriate dummy. “You don’t want a newborn using a too-big toddler-sized dummy, or a toddler using a too-small infant dummy because that’s when it can affect the bite,” warns Swanson. Experts also recommend a dummy that is in one solid piece so it doesn’t break apart in your baby’s mouth.
Myth #3: They’re bad for your child’s teeth.
Truth: If dummies are used conservatively, then no, they won’t affect your child’s teeth or their bite. “As long as there’s nothing sugary or fermented on the dummy or fingers, it won’t cause an increase in decay,” says Delarosa. “I see many more problems when kids go to bed with a bottle.”
Again though, it goes back to frequency, intensity and duration. “If a toddler has a constant habit, that can cause narrowing of the upper palate, shifting of the teeth, and poor tongue posture, but that’s only if the dummy use is all the time,” says dentist Aura Caldera, DDS..
Myth #4: Dummy use will affect speech.
Truth: Okay, we may sound like a broken record here, but as long as the dummy isn’t used when a baby or child is socialising, or used too frequently, it shouldn’t affect his speech. “Prolonged habits could affect the bite and tongue in such a way that it could create a lisp, but again, that’s only with frequent and intense dummy use,” says Dr. Caldera. “It’s not likely if dummy use is limited to when the child is sleeping.”
Myth #5: It’s so hard for them to give up a dummy .
Truth: Some kids seem to love their binky with such devotion, you wonder how you’ll ever break the habit. My son was one of those children, we thought; however, he handed his dum dum to his doctor and that was the end of it, without shedding a single tear. So, speaking from experience, it’s really not a big deal. “The truth is that by 3 ½ or 4, the vast majority of children tend to give up the habit on their own,” says Dr. Delarosa.
If that doesn’t seem to be happening though, there are plenty of creative ways to help wean your child off of her dummy. “Some kids will ‘send’ the dummy to another baby who needs it, trade it in for a cool toy, or use a reward chart,” says Dr. Swanson. You can also discuss how “big kids” don’t use dummies, or have the doctor explain it to her to give it some weight. “The key is once you get rid of the dummies, stop talking about them and don’t give them back,” she adds. “If you go back, the child will never learn that she can survive without it.”
Photo: Courtesy of MAM