Sippy cups are a life saver for many parents who want to keep spills to a minimum, but they can lead to dental problems if not used properly. "Sippy cups are a convenient, wonderful aid for parents," says Dr. Irwin Seidman, a pediatric dentist in Palatine. "But sometimes they keep their kids on them too long." There's nothing wrong with sippy cups themselves-it's what goes in them that can lead to trouble.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends only putting water in sippy cups. Exceptions are made for mealtime, when milk and juice are OK. Problems are most likely to occur if babies use a sippy cup over a long period of time. This is especially true of naptime or bedtime. Prolonged exposure to sugary liquid can lead to decay and cavities.
"Any sticky, sugary substance can contribute to decay," Seidman says. Sippy cups are meant to be transitional tools, which babies only need to use for six months to a year, at which time they should be ready to switch to a regular cup, he says.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing dental health in 1988-1994 and 1999-2002 found that cavities have increased by 15.2 percent in 2- to 5-year-olds. Additional research shows that nearly one-third of toddlers with tooth-decay problems used sippy cups. Seidman says he has had patients that had decay at least partially because of improperly using sippy cups, but he says decay usually results from a combination of poor hygiene practices.
"Parents see their kid furiously brushing," he says, "but they don't realize that a 2-year-old lacks the motor skills to brush effectively." Seidman, a member of the AAPD, recommends parents take their baby to a pediatric dentist at age 1 and every six months after so that they can learn the most effective dental hygiene practices. For more information on how to keep children's teeth healthy, visit www.aadp.org.