The Surprising Reason Sippy Cups Can Hurt Your Toddler

 

Baby drinking milk out of a sippy cupWhen I was a volunteer dentist in Africa, I was amazed at all the beautiful teeth I was seeing. Children who had never been to the dentist before had textbook-perfect straight teeth, perfectly developed jaws, and wide smiles. These children had no cavities and passed their examinations with flying colors.

What was so different about these children? Why do so many Western children start getting cavities as toddlers? Of course, there are many factors that contribute to our oral health problems, including our diet of highly processed foods.

But there’s one thing these children never had that puts them light years ahead of Western children: the sippy cup.

It’s a childhood staple, but sippy cups do a lot of damage to children that isn’t worth the convenience.

How Sippy Cups Hurt Your Toddler

  1. Sippy cups prevent normal development. A mother’s nipple conforms to the child’s mouth, encouraging proper development of everything in and around the mouth — teeth, swallow reflex, oral cavity, jaw, and even airway. A child’s mouth responds differently to a plastic sippy cup or silicone nipple. These different sucking forces change a child’s development, and can lead to speech issues, a small airway, and crooked teeth.
  1. Sippy cups cause tooth decay and cavities. When it comes to cavities, what matters more is how long you expose your teeth to sugar, not as much the quantity of sugar. Sippy cups are loaded with sugary drinks like apple juice and milk, which erode tooth enamel.
  1. Sippy cups teach children unhealthy habits. Many of my adult patients tell me they sit at work with a Coke they sip all day long. I call this the adult version of the sippy cup comfort drink!

How to Go Sippy Cup Free in 4 Easy Steps

  1. Breastfeed as long as possible. It’s not always possible, but if this option is available to you for even a month or two, it will help your child’s development immensely. If you can’t breastfeed, there are other methods your dentist can help you with to ensure your child develops properly.
  1. Toss the sippy cup, and while you’re at it, the pacifier too. Use a BPA-free plastic cup instead. Handles help little hands as they transition from a bottle. Fill it part way to reduce spillage and roll up the carpets while your child is learning to use it.
  1. Make water the default. Sugary drinks like apple juice, although they’re natural, program the taste buds to crave more and more sugar. Help your children appreciate the taste of a delicious glass of water.
  1. Have sugary drinks during meals. Give your child apple juice and milk during meals, which is when saliva production is at its highest. Saliva acts as an acid neutralizer, protecting the teeth from decay. We used to dilute our daughters’ apple juice with water — just don’t let them see you do it!

Day care centers everywhere are starting to ask that toddlers not be dropped off with a sippy cup. The state of New York has even called for warning labels to be added to sippy cups.

What do you think? What’s your opinion on sippy cups? Does your child use one? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Dr. Burhenne is a family and sleep medicine dentist. He is dedicated to helping the world understand the connection between oral health and overall wellness through his blog, Ask the Dentist. Get Dr. Burhenne's book, The Eight Hour Sleep Paradox: How We Are Sleeping Our Way to Disease, Fatigue, and Unhappiness on Amazon.

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Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. Melissa

    I find this article very good and as a speech-language pathologist, agree. I personally feel there is a positive correlation between sippy cup usage and speech problems. Of course I have done no research whatsoever, but add thumb sucking into the mix, and a child can often alter dentition and structure of the hard palate, which can lead to speech issues. As a parent, sippy cups are easy, as a first time parent over 10 years ago, I didn’t want to constantly clean up spills. My daughter ended up on a sippy until she was over four. She has a lisp of s/z. When I had my son I was adamant that he go from a bottle to a normal cup at the age of 1. We would use sippy cups occasionally, but he has no lisp and he is now 6. Whether this is a coincidence or indicative of sippy cup usage who knows, neither are thumb-suckers, but I encourage parents of my speech kiddos to avoid prolonged sippy cup use for their younger siblings, not only for the speech issues but also for their dental health. I’d be interested to see if more research will be done to look into this. Just my two cents :)

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  2. cosette

    I am sorry, i am a bit confused here, I am very new at motherhood forgive me. The problem is the sippy cup or the content(juices, sugary beverages..)?
    up to how many months old should i use a sippy cup,or not use at all? bottle then?
    My daughter drinks a lot of water should i do something about it?

    Sorry again if my questions are annoying

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  3. stefany

    Thank you for sharing this information. Never before have I read something like this. For decades, parents have been using sippy cups and finally the truth is out. Thanks again for sharing this information.

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  4. Anne

    Please don’t judge everyone that uses a sippy cup. I adopted a 2 1/2-year-old child who had had a head injury. He is developing beautifully but has a swallowing disorder related to the damage to his brain. He aspirates if drinking from an open cup. I give him a combination of 25% apple juice and 75% water until mid afternoon when he switches to water only, and he has perfect teeth. As for the pacifier, if I take it from him he goes to the thumb. I believe this is a result of being in nine different foster homes before we got him and he had to comfort himself, as he had no one else to do it. I know our situation is not the norm, but his doctor wrote an order to his preschool, to avoid them taking away the sippy cup, due to the potential danger to his airway. He can drinks only thickened liquids from an open cup, but have you ever tried those? Seriously, who wants them? We live in the very high desert mountains, and he would dehydrate if he only got those.

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  5. jan ellio55

    My daughter and I own a home childcare specializing in infant and toddler care. Despite our urging, parents insist on using sippy cups for their children. We immediately take them away if a child comes in with one. From the time the babies are able to sit up in high chairs and eat table food, they are drinking from open cups. We use small paper cups and teach them not to crush them when they drink.

    Don’t get me started on the two year olds who attend our childcare still drinking baby bottles and sucking on pacifiers!

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    • Mark Burhenne DDS

      Wow, Jan, those children are lucky to be in your care! Thanks for your comment. Great to hear about what you’re doing.

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  6. Loraine Hamm

    I am a Speech Language therapist and also find that I am consistently needing to educate parents re their use. I am glad that Dr Burhenne brings up the issue of subtle forces that shapes the jaw and impacts on dentition and airway development. At a time when a child should be learning a more mature sip pattern of swallowing with their tongue applying pressure at the appropriate position behind the top gum and taking single sips, the sippy cup perpetuates a sucking pattern with serial swallowing. Some cups do not even release liquid unless they are sucked. Water drinks bottles and tubes of food that encourage children to suck their food have similar effects. No wonder sleep apnea is such a huge health challenge today.

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    • anuja

      Hi, just wondering, what do you suggest for when the child is out? A regular cup of course would be difficult for e.g. when travelling in a car or walking the streets etc

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      • Mark Burhenne DDS

        A stainless steel or glass water bottle with a screw-off cap would be great.

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    • Mark Burhenne DDS

      Your patients are lucky to have you educating them, Loraine :)

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    • Tina

      I’m curious Loraine, what Sleep apnea has to do with anything ?

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  7. Sarah

    Super article! I’m a Speech and Language Therapist in the UK (SLP) and find myself having to give advice about appropriate drinking cups, and especially pacifiers, daily to parents of 2 and 3 year old children. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about pacifiers too!

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    • Mark Burhenne DDS

      The same goes for pacifiers, unfortunately. In fact, they could be worse. Pacifiers are all the way in the mouth and don’t deform in the same way a mother’s nipple does, changing the sucking motion and development of the child.

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  8. Sara

    Thank you for sharing this powerful and informative article! I am a mum of 3 and went through these concerns when I was moving my children onto a cup. I couldn’t find a cup that really fitted the bill so I created one! And I am really pleased to say it is now selling in retail and online and children love it – as do their parents and their dentists! I would be honoured if you would take a look. It’s called Babycup and it is a mini open cup for babies and young children. In the UK, where I am from and where Babycup is manufactured, dental decay is one of the primary reasons young children are admitted to hospital. It is terrible that little ones undergo general anaesthetic and wake up to find gaps where their precious baby teeth once were. This health travesty is preventable and it is crazy that in our supposedly developed nations children have such unnecessary suffering. With Babycup, little ones learn to drink from an open cup easily and enjoyably because it’s the right size for their little mouths and little hands. It’s easy to manage, there’s not much to spill, learning is easy. The other great benefits are in the fine motor skills the children develop and the wonderful pride at their achievement. It is truly lovely. My saying is ‘One small Babycup for mealtime, one giant leap for childhood health. Thank you and best wishes, Sara, Babycup

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    • Christine

      Hello, I read your post and am very interested in your cups! I went to the site and am wondering if I’m able to get these in the United States? I would love to try these out on my lil one. Thank you so much!

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      • Sara

        Hi Christine. Thank you so much for taking a look. It’s lovely of you to ask about where to get Babycup. My US customers order directly from the online store page of my website: http://www.babycup.co.uk/buy-baby-drinking-cups/ Any questions please ask and I’ll be glad to help (there’s a ‘Contact’ option at the bottom of the page on the Babycup website) Best wishes and happy sipping! Sara, Babycup :-)

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    • Mark Burhenne DDS

      Hi Sara! I’ve reached out to you via your contact form on your website. I look forward to learning more :)

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