Sippy cups and your child's teeth

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jennifer Hasslen
  • 319th Dental Squadron
February is National Children's Dental Health Month, which grew from a two-city event in 1941 into the nationwide program it is today.

The importance of oral hygiene begins when a child get his or her first tooth. As soon as that first tooth appears in the mouth, decay can occur.

One of the risk factors for early childhood cavities, sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay or nursing mouth syndrome, is frequent and prolonged exposure of a baby's teeth to liquids, such as fruit juice, milk or formula, which all contain sugar.

Tooth decay can occur when a baby is put to bed with a bottle. Infants should finish their naptime or bedtime bottle before going to bed. However, don't be fooled to think this can only happen when they are sleeping. Continual sucking or sipping on any liquid, including fruit juices with either natural or added sugars, can cause just as many problems. Constant bathing of the teeth in anything but water can yield potentially devastating results.

Many training cups, also called sippy or tippy cups, are available in stores. Many are "no spill" cups, which are essentially baby bottles in a more advanced disguise. "No spill" cups include a valve beneath the spout to prevent spills. However, cups with valves do not allow your child to sip. Instead the child gets liquid by sucking on the cup, much like a baby bottle. This practice defeats the purpose of using a training cup, as it prevents the child from sipping.

As for training cups, they ideally should be used temporarily. Once your child has learned to sip, the training cup has achieved its purpose. It can, and should be, set aside when no longer needed. When using these cups, they should be filled with water only for in-between meals and car rides. Yes, I too, value the sippy cup in the car. Any other liquids should be consumed at regular meal times when saliva flow is increased and washes the sugars off the teeth.

I am by no means saying sippy cups are bad, but I would like you to see them for what they are -- advanced bottles. Eventually, your child needs to drink from a cup, and although very messy at first, it's worth it in the end.

This is beneficial in several ways: the child will feel more "grown up" because they are drinking like an adult or older sibling, and more importantly, children tend to guzzle liquids from a cup meaning they won't be slowly bathing their teeth with sugary liquids.

For sipping success, as the first birthday approaches and definitely by the second, encourage your child to drink from a cup. Remember what you put in the cup is very important. Water is always best between meals and at bedtime. Furthermore, children don't usually get enough water. Try to limit how frequently your child is drinking from the sippy cup as well. Also, be sure to be watchful as kids can fall when drinking from sippy cups and potentially injure themselves.

On a final note, take a moment to discuss the importance of brushing twice a day and flossing regularly with your child. Don't forget about the importance of a fluoride mouthwash. And remember, have your children see a dentist twice a year for regular check-ups and cleanings.