Dummy use and its impact on speech development

dummy use

The use of pacifiers, more commonly known as dummies, has its advantages and disadvantages. There’s no reason to avoid dummies completely, provided you know when to limit its usage and when it should be thrown away.

If you are breastfeeding your baby, using a dummy is not recommended as it may contribute to nipple confusion and preference, especially if the dummy is introduced before breastfeeding has been fully established. Dummy usage has been linked to breastfeeding difficulties, as well as reduced motivation to breastfeed. However, if used solely to assist at nap time and bedtime, there should not be a problem.

Excessive dummy sucking may impair the functioning of the eustachian tube by changing its patency and the pressure balance between the nasopharynx and the middle ear.  Twice as many children who use dummies develop ear infections.  Chronic ear infections can lead to hearing loss which in turn affects speech development.  It is strongly suggested to reduce dummy usage to sleeping time only from 6 months old.

Many dentists and orthodontists have proven that dummy usage can have serious implications on dentition, jaw structure and dental arch.  To avoid these risks, sucking a dummy should gradually stop from 18 months and be completely eradicated by 2 years of age. Dental problems often given rise to articulation difficulties but furthermore with continued and constant dummy use, the child has less communication attempts as the dummy is always in the mouth. The child is then not understood by others, and often gets teased or develops low self esteem or frustration from not being understood.  They also develop paci-mouth, a forward placement of the tongue which causes further articulation issues.

It is important to note, however, that preterm babies require non-nutritive sucking to develop the oral motor skills that full term babies are born with.  Non-nutritive sucking provides comfort, state regulation and an opportunity to organize oromotor development.  Studies have found better wellbeing and earlier discharge from the neonatal ICU when this is in place.

Dummies can assist parents to pacify and soothe their children, but the long-term implications must be noted and avoided. Always choose an orthodontist approved dummy and have a little storage container to keep the dummy in between uses. Should you have any concerns about your child’s speech, language or feeding development after prolonged dummy use, reach out to your local Speech Language Therapist for assistance.


Written by Sumayya Vayej – Speech Language Pathologist

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