This is a current topic for the parents of small children, given that today many paediatric doctors recommend giving the baby a dummy when they want it, no matter how long they use it for every day.
It should always be used after the first month, since at first the baby must get used to sucking their mother’s breast or the teat of a bottle, both of which require more sucking strength than the dummy. The idea is that the child will no longer want to use a dummy, naturally, the older they get.
Ideally, children should stop using a dummy at eighteen months.
The problem is that this is not often the case, and even if it is, they tend to replace it with their thumb and continue to suck it in some cases until they are at least 5 years of age ,there by causing problems of abnormal tooth alignment which will require orthodontic treatment.
The reflex or need to suck
New-born, milk-fed babies have this reflex so that they can suckle on their mother’s breast or on a bottle. They suck strongly on the breast or teat to extract the milk they need to feed them and make them grow. This is known as nutritive suction, a movement they also make when hungry, expressing the need to be fed.
Non-nutritive suction is what happens with the dummy, thumb, or any other finger. It is a source of satisfaction for the child, and soothes them.
During the eruption of their milk teeth, at around 6 months of age, the baby feels an increased need to suck and bite; this is often when the baby starts taking an interest in the dummy.
In recent years, dummy use has increased among babies, both during the day, and as they get older.
Peaceful babies don’t tend to be a problem. Normally, babies have the dummy hanging from a little plastic chain so that it doesn’t get lost and they can find it easily. Babies with a calm disposition tend to use them when they are tired, or after eating, to help them get to sleep.
The problem arises when you have a nervous baby, who uses the dummy repeatedly. This kind of dummy use can cause deformation of the palate due to the fact that the tongue, which lies on the floor of the mouth, doesn’t shape the palate, meaning that it remains narrow. The problem is accentuated due to the fact that, on constantly sucking the dummy, the baby’s cheeks press the palate inwards.
Today there are several different kinds of dummy on the market, adapted to the age and size of the baby’s palate. They are intended to stimulate and widen the palate, so that they sit more or less flat against it. The anatomical extra-flat shape imitates the mother’s breast while suckling, thereby minimising pressure on the palate.
Some dummies have silicone wings. They prevent malocclusion by providing a wider masticatory surface and distributing the pressure over the jaw.
Dummies with an extra-thin neck help to simulate the regular position of the mouth. The baby’s mouth is completely closed when using this kind of dummy.
Some dummies have a rough surface on their lower part similar to the front part of the palate. This means that the tongue remains in the forward position, as if it were in contact with the palate.
Your chemist will advise you on the best dummy for your baby.
Sucking their thumb can also deform your baby’s palate. This is why parents try to stop their baby from doing it. Apart from anything else, their thumb may not be quite as clean as a dummy.
Like with the dummy, repeatedly sucking their thumb will make the baby’s palate narrower and push it forward.
Sometimes, when the child stops using their dummy, they substitute it with their thumb, simply because it’s there and it soothes them. They tend to suck their thumb more gently and let it go more easily when they start falling asleep.
A child must no longer suck its thumb at between two and three years.
How to “come off” the dummy or thumb
At two or three years of age, the child has a more interesting life: they can walk, speak, and enjoy contact with other children. They also start going to school, where there are older children, which normally makes them feel ashamed of the habit and prompts them to stop.
If, despite going to school, the habit continues, they must stop before reaching the age of 4 or 5 years, before the eruption of their permanent teeth. If they don’t, the palate will narrow and jut outwards.
Interference of the dummy or thumb will cause their upper teeth to grow outwards, while the lower teeth will tilt inwards, leaving a space for their thumb even when sleeping. In this case, when their mouth is closed, their front teeth won’t meet and their lips will have trouble closing properly.
Positive attitude towards the child
You must talk to them, and encourage them to stop using the dummy or sucking their thumb, giving them confidence in themselves, and helping them to move on to another stage where they will feel more grown up. At the end of the day, they will want to stop sucking the dummy or their thumb because they know it’s something that babies do.
To convince them, you must choose a peaceful time. It’s not a good idea to try and get them to stop when they’ve just had a little brother or sister, when you’ve recently changed house or moved to another town…these are situations that may make your child feel insecure.
Watch them to see when they suck their thumb, and to what they associate it: watching TV, when they’re bored, when they’re sleepy… It is at those moments that you should offer them a satisfying alternative, such as talking to them, reading to them or telling them a story, playing at guessing games…
Every child has their own rhythm and stages. You must give them praise for their efforts and celebrate or reward their accomplishments.
Try setting targets: no longer using it at school, then at home, and lastly when going to bed.
If this doesn’t work, don’t make them feel guilty, simply start over again a few months later.
When you’ve tried a few times with no success, you can add the odd “trick”.
- Paint it with the clear bitter nail varnish used to stop people from biting their nails. You should paint the varnish on all of their fingers so that they don’t simply change from one to another.
- Sew the sleeves of their pyjamas, on both arms, since only sewing the one corresponding to the thumb they suck will simply give them they option to suck the thumb of the other hand.
- Tie an elastic bandage around their elbow, but not too tightly, so that they can suck their thumb easily before sleeping and to relieve themselves of the anxiety they feel at that time. Once they fall asleep and no longer apply strength to their arm, the elastic effect will draw the thumb out of their mouth and keep it out for the rest of the night.
While they may seem old-fashioned, most of these “tricks” are well worth trying, and often work.
If their permanent front teeth have grown in and the habit continues, it is advisable to consult your dentist to deal with the habit and correct poor dental alignment.
At our surgery we’ll study your child’s case and suggest possible solutions.