The Dummy Dilemma


The dummy dilemma never seems to be far from the news; even David Beckham was slated by the press last year for posting photos of four-year-old Harpur with a dummy in her mouth. (If you’re interested follow the link
It’s an emotive topic, a bit like breastfeeding, with people in both camps keen to voice their opinions. So, here’s my take on it as a Speech and Language Therapist…
I don’t have a problem with babies being given a dummy for comfort, to relieve pain or to help them settle down to sleep. However, it’s a different matter when toddlers or older children are still using them habitually. I have to confess that whenever I see a small child walking round with a dummy plugged in (and sometimes a ‘dummy addict’ has one in each hand as well) I have to stop myself from rushing over taking it out and binning it!
So, why are dummies an issue? Could using them cause speech or dental problems?

When children attend their first Speech Therapy appointment it’s common practice to have a quick look in their mouths to check nothing is amiss. Sometimes I say to the unsuspecting parent (who at this point thinks I’m psychic) “How long has she been using her dummy?” “How did you know she has a dummy?” comes the reply.
Because her teeth look like this ….


This is known as an open bite and, as you can see, there is a gap where the front teeth should normally meet nicely together. A cross bite can also develop, where the back teeth don’t come together properly.

Dummy use can also cause an over development of the muscles at the front of the mouth, compared with those at the back. This can lead to a tongue thrust developing; you can see in the picture that the tip of the tongue is thrusting forward through the gap. Speech wise this can promote a lisp meaning that some sounds aren’t pronounced correctly for example, the child may say “thumb” instead of “some”.

The British Dental Association states that “Dummy sucking is associated with a number of oral health issues including malocclusion and dental caries”. It recommends that children should cut down on dummy use once they’re aged one to reduce the risk of problems developing. “Repeated sucking of a dummy over long periods of time can negatively affect occlusion and mouth growth, which may necessitate corrective treatment.”

Sucking also opens the Eustachian tube (which links the nose to the middle ear) and this can allow bacteria from the nose into the middle ear, which can cause middle ear infections (otitis media).

Just imagine for a moment that you have a dummy in your mouth right now. Imagine trying to talk and get you message across clearly with a large rubber teat in your mouth (feels even larger in a child’s little mouth.) In fact, if you have a dummy in the house, now go get it! Try putting it in and suck. Notice how your tongue and jaw feel slightly forward? Try talking. See how restricting it is when you are trying to speak? I did this several years ago at a Sure Start Parent and Toddler session I was running. My lovely colleague bought all the parents a new dummy which they were instructed to keep in their mouths during the whole of the session – it proved a very thought provoking afternoon!

Sound play is very important for early speech and language development. Babies need to practice playing with sounds, coo, babble and copy the sounds and words that you make. These skills are learned early and are much harder with a dummy in your mouth. Once words develop and children become more communicative a dummy can’t help but restrict their talking. In Speech therapy clinics I advise parents that the dummy needs to go before we can start working on certain sound problems.

So, when to get rid of a dummy?

Probably the sooner the better! The older they get the harder it seems to become. Parents have often asked me for advice on how to do this (some have even been brave enough to ‘bin it’ in the Speech Therapy room!) and explained that they’ve tried to get rid of them but their little one has found one hidden somewhere or they’ve pinched their little brother’s. Some are honest enough to admit they can’t face all hell breaking loose and have given in. So, call me harsh but I tend to advise the ‘Super Nanny’ type approach – just get rid of them, all of them, and do it quickly and don’t give in. Once they’re gone they’re GONE! You may have a few difficult nights, crying, screaming and lots of nagging. But they are little, you are the adult, and in this case you do know best. They can’t make this decision for themselves as they are too young to understand the consequences. Maybe we just find it hard to say ‘no’ to our kids sometimes – and don’t we all?!

Maybe swap it for a new comfort toy for bedtime, put it under their pillow for the ‘dummy fairy’ or take it to Ash End House Children’s Farm for the baby piglets!



smokerAnd a final thought ……

Like some things in life, sometimes it’s better just not to start in the first place.