Are dummies bad for babies?

Dra. Montañés
Specialist in Pediatric Dentistry and Dental Aesthetics.

A natural reflex

Sucking is an intuitive action in babies right from birth, and is essential for their survival. The habit of sucking will gradually disappear as milk teeth start coming through and the baby begins to get into the habit of chewing. Dummies are a non-nutritious habit and there is no definitive evidence for or against their use in babies, nor is there an exact age at which they should be given up. It depends on different factors in each child.

Until what age can a child use a dummy?

The use of dummies in children who already have teeth should be reduced gradually. Sucking habits that linger after the age of 2-3, are more likely to be associated with malocclusions in the teeth, maxillary and jaw. The prolonged use of a dummy could cause dental problems in the future. The effect that it could have on the teeth and craniofacial development in children depend on the frequency, intensity, the length of time the child has been using the dummy, the type of facial musculature, genetic predisposition and growth patterns.

Dental and skeletal consequences associated with the prolonged use of a dummy after the age of three could be:

Anterior open bite: the anterior superior and anterior inferior teeth cannot make contact as the dummy is placed between both dental arches. In this case, if the child stops using the dummy, the teeth can reposition themselves into their natural position.

Posterior cross-bite: the dummy causes the tongue to sit in a lower position and prevents it from exercising the necessary stimulus on the palate in order for the maxillary to develop correctly. The result is an insufficient development of the breadth of the maxillary. Compensating for the lack of development requires orthodontic treatment which widens the palate.

Specialist advice

In general, it’s recommended for a specialist orthodontist or children’s dental clinic to see all children who still have an oral habit, such as using a dummy or finger/thumb sucking, after 3-4 years old, or an improper bite. They’ll be able to assess each case individually, and will inform the parents of the issues caused by the habit, as well as of the most convenient moment to start a treatment plan.