Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups and Tooth Decay

Most parents wouldn’t think of raising their child without a baby bottle or a sippy cup. And there’s nothing wrong with baby bottles or sippy cups. But there is something to be said about the kinds of drinks some parents fill bottles and sippy cups with, as well as when (and how frequently) they are given to children. The reason for this concern is sugary drinks and the rise in tooth decay in our young children.

Did you know? According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease for kids between 2 and 4 years old. For some parents, it may be also surprising to hear that tooth decay in this age range is on the rise. In a recent ADA study, it was found that children born between 1999-2004 had up to a 24% greater likelihood for tooth decay than those born a decade earlier.

It’s a safe bet that all parents in the U.S. have made use of a baby bottle with their infant child at some point or other. Some bottles are used for breast milk. Others are used for formula or other liquids. Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by frequent exposure of infant teeth to liquids that contain sugar (which include fruit juice, formula, and milk). Most problems that parents face with baby bottle tooth decay stem from putting their child down to sleep with a baby bottle filled with anything but plain water. Since children are likely to suck on the bottle until they fall asleep, their tiny teeth are flooded with sugary liquid that sits there while they sleep. This allows bacteria to grow and begin to eat away at the enamel of their teeth. This leads to tooth decay and cavities. The solution, thankfully, is simple: after each bottle feeding, make sure to clean your baby’s teeth, and if you must put them down with a bottle, make sure it’s only filled with water. When they are older, the same rules apply to sippy cups.

A sippy cup (one of those cups that features a spill-proof lid with a wide integrated straw), is a great transitional cup for toddlers who are making the change from baby bottles to traditional cups. Sippy cups are a great training tool that teaches little hands how to grasp and hold a traditional cup. Sippy cups also help keep liquids off the floors and furniture! So, by design, a sippy cup is a valuable tool for young children who are still mastering their hand coordination and fine motor skills. Where sippy cups become a negative is when parents continually keep them filled with liquids that are high in sugar (and this includes milk, soda, fruit juice, sports drinks). Even when the drink is watered down, it still contains enough sweetener to keep the child’s teeth coated in sugar throughout the day. So, what’s the solution? Much like with baby bottles, one of your best defenses against childhood tooth decay is water in the sippy cup.

Children, just like adults, need to hydrate with water throughout the day. Water makes up more than half our body weight. Water keeps the body cool. Water helps our immune system fight illnesses. And water helps every cell in the body function properly. Although it’s perfectly fine to fill a sippy cup with milk or fruit juice at mealtime (followed by brushing), there’s no need to continually pacify a child with a sweetened drink during all hours of the day. Very simply, that kind of exposure to sweetened drinks will soak their precious teeth in sugar and give rise to all kinds of cavity-causing bacteria.

This article is brought to you by Dr. Cobb The Kid’s Dentist, an Olathe, Kansas provider of comprehensive, high- quality pediatric dental care. If you wish to make an appointment for a dental cleaning or evaluation, feel free to contact the office of Dr. David J. Cobb.

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