Sunday, 4 July 2010

Ditch the Dummy!

I've just had another conversation with a parent of a 4 1/2 year old with poor speech about the use of dummies as a huge contributory factor to his problems. He had one until well over 3 years of age because the mother-in-law  said it would 'ruin his personality' if it was taken off him!! What complete and utter rubbish (I've calmed down now so I'm more polite because that wasn't what I was thinking at the time!). 

He's now left with no 'l' sound, 'ch' and 'j' are wrong and his tongue protrudes for 's', 'z' and 'sh'.  He's going to need months of therapy with lots of practise at home.

For the mother-in-law and anyone else who is unsure:

During your baby's early months a dummy can help to soothe. This is understandable, as most babies have a strong sucking reflex and the dummy can, in many cases, help to settle the child. It may not, however, be necessary even then! My babies didn't have one but if it helps to 'pacify'  at sleep times, then I see no real problem for up to a year old. After that, it should be dropped because the child needs to be able to make use of a full range of sounds which can only be achieved by letting the tongue move freely around the articulators (lips, gums, palate etc.) They should NEVER be used when the child is talking.

Using the dummy can lead to the following problems:

  • incorrect positioning of teeth so that the bottom and top teeth at the front don't meet properly
  • tooth decay (especially the front teeth) if the dummy is dipped into sweet things
Mouth breathing:
  • your child may tend to breathe through their mouth rather than their nose. This is often linked to long-term dribbling
Speech and language problems:
  • your child may not use the full range of tongue movements that are necessary for making all the speech sound your child has fewer opportunities to babble and use sounds to communicate with you
  • much higher risk of acquiring speech sound difficulties 
I see lots of children dropped off at nurseries and who's dummies go in their bags at the door. They have quickly learned that they don't have a dummy there so they don't usually even ask for it. I also see a lot of parents collecting from nursery who retrieve the dummies from bags and install in the child's mouth before they've even said 'Hello'.

I know I hate them and you're probably thinking I'm being too harsh but I think we need to look at WHY they have them when they are able to talk. Are parents trying to shut up their child? 
We need to talk more, not less and anything that gets in the way of this should be discouraged.

I have an A4 'Dummy Free Zone' poster if anyone would like one


  1. I'm a great advocator of dummies 3 out of 4 of my children had them (one refused) BUT, I don't understand why mum's don't take them off sooner, especially before they start talking. I had no problems ditching my kids dummies and they only ever had them for sleeping anyway. Great post.

  2. My daughter had a dummy - she's adopted so unfortunately she came to us with a dummy but luckily she was only 6 months old.
    I took her dummy off her just after her second birthday, there were mitigating circumstances in her having her dummy taken off her, it was not a nicely nicely talk and that the fairies or whatever were going to take it for the new babies, I sometimes feel the way it was taken was a bit harsh, however, she never kicked up a fuss and never asked for it again.
    She has no problem communicating with anyone of any age and she's not yet 6, however I have found that pacifiers like "blankies" can also have an adverse effect due to the sucking the ends of the blanket then that turning into sucking their thumb. Children older than my daughter that I know still have problems with their speech and I just wish parents would step back and take a look at what their 5 year old really looks like with a plastic germ ridden thing stuck in their mouth urgh disgusting...

  3. As a SLT and a parent, I completely understand the use of dummies. Babies are hard work especially at night time when a dummy can be a life saver or at least a mental-health saver. My girls only had dummies at sleep times and only occasionally when awake and we got rid of them at around 2 years. I prefer dummies than thumb sucking which can last well into teenage years and can really alter teeth development and affect whole communication skills. I know many 6, 7 and 8 year olds who still sit around at home with thumbs in mouths and blankets in hands, but not many of them would have a dummy. A good dentist friend agrees with me that dummies taken away by 2 are a better option than thumb sucking into late childhood, in terms of teeth formation and speech... I obviously agree that a five year old with a dummy is pretty awful!