Imagine this scenario: you and your significant other are taking your toddler to the dentist for his or her first check-up. After taking a careful look around your child’s mouth, the dentist informs you that the child has a mouthful of cavities. No problem, you think, they’re baby teeth, and they’ll fall out soon enough, but the problem is a little more extensive than you might think.
Just because cavities are in baby teeth doesn’t mean your child gets a free pass. The cavities he or she has now can affect the way adult teeth grow and develop. Children with cavity-filled baby teeth tend to grow into teenagers with speech problems and need extensive orthodontic work, more than just your average palate expander or braces.
As great as sippy cups are at preventing spills and teaching children how to drink, the cons far outweigh the pros. Read on to learn how sippy cups can hamper the mouth’s development and cause long-term problems for your child as he or she grows up1.
Sippy cups and the mouth’s development
When deciding how to feed a newborn, parents have two options: bottle feeding (later sippy cups) or breast feeding. Only breast feeding lets the oral cavity develop properly and natural.
A woman’s nipple is much softer than a rubber nipple on a bottle, and it deforms as the child sucks on it. As it takes on a different shape inside the child’s mouth, it promotes the proper development of the oral structures within such as the palate teeth and oral cavity. It also trains the tongue to function properly.
Rubber nipples are rigid and don’t conform easily at all. They can lead to a misshapen oral cavity and cause many speech and sleep-quality problems for your child as well as blocked airway passages and malformed teeth.
Sippy cups and tooth decay
Whether you’ve given your child milk, fruit juice or any other drink with natural sugars, you run the risk of letting the sugars and acids sit on your child’s teeth. Overtime, these sugars and acids can erode tooth enamel, the translucent casing that protects the nerves of the teeth, which can cause sensitivity to certain temperatures and chemicals as well as many other dental problems down the line2.
To combat this problem, let your child drink water throughout the day, but limit the time he or she spends drinking any other beverage, such as only at lunch or dinnertime. Have your child rinse with water after finishing the beverage and after 30 minutes, brush your child’s teeth (or let them brush their own teeth if possible).
Doing this will ensure that the sugars and acids do not stay on the teeth and begin breaking down the enamel.
Sippy cups and obesity
Like baby blankets and stuffed animals, children tend to latch onto their sippy cups because their sippy cup makes them feel secure and comforted, but this isn’t a good habit to get your child into. Letting them have a sugary drink by their side all day becomes a coping mechanism for stress that can follow them well into adulthood. Do you or one of your co-workers keep a can of Coke, Pepsi or some other sugary drink at the office desk all day? It’s like having an adult sippy cup!
It’s never a good idea to get your child hooked on sugars at such a young age as it can lead to obesity as an adult. As we previously discussed, water is always a viable option to make sure your child doesn’t go thirsty. Chose water with a higher pH so your child gets a little more taste. If you want to give your child the healthy benefits of apple or orange juice, serve them the real fruit instead.
What you can do
The first course of action is to choose breastfeeding over bottle feeding. For some women, of course, this isn’t an option, but if you can, breastfeed your child for as long as possible. When your child is ready for a cup, chose a plastic BPA-free hard resin glass that won’t break when dropped. To reduce the amount of spills, fill the glass half full.
No matter what kind of juice you give your child, the health benefits are low and sugars high so give you child water throughout the day if he or she is thirsty. If your child spills water, it’s no big deal. It’ll dry and won’t stain your carpets or the child’s clothing. You’d be surprised at how quickly a child learns how not to spill a beverage – even within a few days.
When your child is finished drinking, take away the glass. It’s not a coping mechanism for a distressed child, and you don’t want your child to be dependent on snacking and drinking sugary drinks all day.
If you do give your child milk or juice, do so at meal time. Saliva production is high, and the other foods present can lower the pH levels in the mouth. You can also try diluting the juice with water to lessen the amount of sugar your child drinks.
As a parent, you want to set your child up for success as early as possible. Dental problems that begin in infancy can last up through adulthood so take the proactive route with your child’s teeth.
For more tips like this, check out Dr. B’s 8 Simple Tricks for Brushing Your Child’s Teeth
Mark Burhenne, better known as Dr. B by his readers at AsktheDentist.com, has been a family dentist in Sunnyvale, California for over 25 years and answering questions online since 1996. Sign up for his weekly newsletter to get access to his live Q&A webinars, free eBooks, and checklists with exact steps for maximizing your dental visits.
- 1.Hoeft KS, Barker JC, Shiboski S, Pantoja-Guzman E, Hiatt RA. Effectiveness evaluation ofContra CariesOral Health Education Program for improving Spanish-speaking parents’ preventive oral health knowledge and behaviors for their young children. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. August 2016:564-576. doi:10.1111/cdoe.12250
- 2.DOUGLASS JM, DOUGLASS AB, SILK HJ. A Practical Guide to Infant Oral Health. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(11):2113-2120.