Sippy Cups

Toddler tooth decay is on the rise and many pediatric dentists believe that sippy cups are to blame. Sippy cups are a great tool for easing the transition between baby bottles and adult drinking glasses and are effective at preventing spills and leaks, but prolonged use into late toddlerhood is directly linked to pediatric cavities, often called “baby bottle cavities.”

Once the child’s first tooth emerges, they are susceptible to tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents take their children to the dentist for a “well-baby” checkup approximately six months after the first tooth emerges. During this visit, the pediatric dentist can examine the development of the child’s teeth, gums, and jaw, and can offer the parents essential information about oral care routines and sippy cup use, as well as strategies for eliminating harmful oral habits. The best way to avoid childhood tooth decay is to take the child in for biannual dental appointments.

How does sippy cup use lead to tooth decay?

The real problem with sippy cups arises when parents fill them with sugary liquids. Baby formula, breast milk, fruit juice, soda, and sweetened water all contain sugars that bacteria feed on. Harmful oral acids are produced that attack the tooth enamel and cause cavities, tooth decay, and childhood periodontal disease.

Sippy cups only release a small amount of liquid at a time, elongating the drinking process and swashing the sugary liquid around the child’s teeth. Parents are advised to fill sippy cups with water only.

How do sippy cups cause tooth decay?

Sippy cups alone do not cause tooth decay.  Oftentimes, the real problem is that parents tend to fill them with sugary, decay-promoting liquids.  Examples of such liquids are: breast milk, baby formula, fruit juice, soda, and sweetened water.

Since sippy cups only emit a tiny amount of fluid at a time, the sugars in the fluids are continuously being swashed in and around the child’s teeth.  Oral bacteria feed on these sugars and produce harmful oral acids. Acids attack the tooth enamel, weakening it and rendering it susceptible to decay.  Sometimes cavities (caries) form between the teeth, which are hard to see.  Biannual appointments with the pediatric dentist are the best way to monitor the condition of the teeth and to ensure that cavities are not developing.

When is it okay to use sippy cups?

There is no denying that sippy cups play an important part in the development of children today. When a child is first able to physically grasp, parents are advised to switch from using baby bottles to sippy cups.

While the child regularly uses a sippy cup, parents should follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t let children sip continuously from a sippy cup. Take the cup away from them when the contents are gone.

  • Don’t fill sippy cups with sugary liquids; opt for water instead.

  • Frequently rinse the sippy cup with water to eliminate germs.

  • Don’t use sippy cups to comfort the child.

  • If the child must drink sugary liquids, have them do so at mealtimes when their saliva production is the highest.

Around the one-year mark, or when the child has developed enough motor control, they should be using an adult-sized drinking glass.

ADA-Approved sippy cups

The American Dental Association (ADA) knows that not all sippy cups are created equal. They created guidelines for parents to choose the best sippy cup for their child and their tips are:

  • Choose a spout – Sippy cups with a screwed or snap-on lid with a spout promote good drinking habits as opposed to the alternatives which are more like “glorified baby bottles.”  

  • Avoid “no-spill” valves – No-spill valves release only a tiny amount of liquid with each sip, giving the sugars more opportunities to cause tooth decay. These cups also do not advance the child’s drinking abilities.

  • Choose two handles over one – Adult-sized drinking glasses are large and require children to use two hands when drinking. Two-handed sippy cups are a good transitioning tool for preparing children for these types of glasses.

If you have questions or concerns about sippy cups or childhood tooth decay, contact Brooklyn Dentist.


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