The truth about dummies

I am often asked by patients, usually with young children or grandchildren, whether dummies will harm a child’s teeth. This has become a subject close to my heart as my second baby really needed a dummy to settle whereas my first had not. As three quarters of western children are given a dummy at some point, it is not surprising that many a myth surrounds the subject.

On reading a recent article in the journal Dental Update, I was surprised how the research into the use of dummies is very patchy and inconclusive. It seems that using a dummy may well reduce the risk of cot death in babies although the reason why is not fully understood. Some studies showed dummies provided pain relief in babies and prevented developing a thumb sucking habit later in life.

On the negative side there may be links between dummy sucking and developing ear infections. The practice of dipping dummies in anything sugary, such as honey, definitely promotes tooth decay and prolonged sucking of dummies will distort the position of the teeth. Interestingly the new orthodontic shaped dummies, which claim to be better at not causing this distortion, are not proven to any better than the standard dummies in this respect. Theories that dummy use may result in early breast weaning or cause jaw joint disease in later life are not supported by any evidence.

Left to right: Tommee Tippee and Philips Avent orthodontic dummies

My opinion on dummies, as a dentist, is that they are harmless if used hygienically and in moderation. I have definitely witnessed some of the negative effects in my own patients but only when the dummy is sweetened and causes decay or if it is sucked for very long periods and stop the teeth taking up their natural position. If they are kept regularly sterilised, unsweetened, not for more than six hours a day or beyond infancy then no ill effects should result either short or long term.

As a parent I believe dummies offer very valuable comfort not only some babies who seem to just need to suck on something to settle but also to those trying their hardest to calm them! As long as you are armed with the facts you can avoid the pitfalls in giving a dummy and just enjoy the sight of a beautifully peaceful sleeping baby.

Source- Pacifiers: A Review of Risks vs Benefits Dental Update March 2013