Sippy-cup syndrome – Is your toddler at risk?

From pre-schools to playgrounds, booster seats to tricycles, sippy cups are easy to find clutched in the little hands of toddlers. Developed for children who’ve outgrown bottles and are too young to manage a full-size cup on their own, sippy cups offer parents an easy spill-proof way to get through the day. However, parents may not know that the long-term and regular use of sippy cups put children’s growing teeth at increased risk for decay.

A study published in the Journal of Dentistry for Children , confirms that out of 186 children with baby bottle tooth decay-like symptoms, twenty-nine percent of the children used sippy cups.

“While these findings are not surprising, the connection between baby- bottle tooth decay and sippy cups is very new, yet very logical,” explains Cindi Sherwood, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

Much like the sucking mechanism of a baby bottle, sippy cups require the same behavior to ingest beverages. During this process, the ingested beverages immerse the six upper front teeth, thus barring the usual cleaning, neutralizing and rinsing effect of saliva.

sippy_cup_fall2007The Academy of General Dentistry hopes these findings will remind parents that sippy cups should be used only as a transitional step in the development of children and not a long-term solution.

Even more alarming to dental professionals is what parents are putting in sippy cups–sweetened fruit juices top the list along with sweetened tea and lemonade or cola.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fruit juice causes tooth decay if children are allowed to hold a bottle, cup or box of juice in their mouth through the day.

Unsweetened fruit juices, teas and water are always best for children when drinking out of sippy cups because sugary beverages help promote tooth decay.

“If left untreated, baby bottle tooth decay can result in pain and infection,” says Dr. Sherwood. “Baby teeth are important because they hold the place for permanent teeth and help guide them into correct position. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted which could effect the development of permanent teeth, a child’s speech and chewing.”

Caring for children’s teeth beginning in infancy promotes good oral health care habits for a lifetime and increases the chances of a child maintaining healthy permanent teeth.

Tips for Parents to Decrease the Risk of Early Childhood Tooth Decay

  • Wean a child from the bottle or breast by age one.
  • Use sippy cups as a transitional step in the development of children, not a long-term solution.
  • Don’t allow children to use sippy cups throughout the day. Save sippy-cups for snack and mealtimes when increased salivary activity helps clean teeth.
  • Drink sugary beverages through a straw. The best sippy cups to protect against decay are those with collapsible rubber straws.
  • Introduce oral health care habits early. Wipe children’s teeth with a damp cloth once a day. Introduce brushing with a soft-bristle brush and fluoridated toothpaste by age two under the supervision of a parent.