March 22, 2002 -- Toddlers love their sippy cups, but those cups -- as convenient as they are -- are causing far too many cavities, says the nation's dentists. Toddlers are literally dousing their teeth all day long with sugary drinks. And parents rarely think to take very young children to the dentist.
Nearly one-third of toddlers with tooth decay problems used sippy cups, according to the study published in the Journal of Dentistry for Children.
"While these findings are not surprising, the connection between baby-bottle tooth decay and sippy cups is very new, yet very logical," says Cindi Sherwood, DDS, spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry, in an industry newsletter.
Sippy cups were developed for children who have outgrown bottles and are too young to manage a full-size cup on their own. Sippy cups are much like sucking on a baby bottle -- with one exception. When toddlers drink from sippy cups, they immerse the six upper front teeth. If there's something sweet in the cup -- and there frequently is -- those teeth are literally bathed in sweet stuff all day long.
Sippy cups should be used only as a transitional step for children, not as a long-term solution, according to the Academy.
"If left untreated, baby bottle tooth decay can result in pain and infection," says Sherwood. "Baby teeth are important because they hold the place for permanent teeth and help guide them into correct position. Several decayed teeth may need to be extracted which could affect the development of permanent teeth."
In fact, parents should get their children involved with a dentist much earlier than most do, according to the Academy. On average, children have their first dental visit at age 3. Dental experts recommend that initial visits occur between the ages of 6 months and 1 year, when the first tooth appears.
"Early visits are crucial in assessing diet and feeding patterns that may contribute to tooth decay," says John Rutkauskas, DDS, MBA, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Foundation, in a news release.
Tips for parents:
- Use sippy cups as a transitional step, not as a long-term solution.
- Don't allow children to use sippy cups throughout the day. Save them for snacks and mealtimes.
- Let children drink sugary beverages only through a straw. Sippy cups with flexible rubber straws are fine.
- Get children involved in dental care early on. Wipe infant and toddler's teeth with a damp cloth once a day. By age 2, introduce brushing with a soft-bristle brush and fluoridated toothpaste.
- Children should have regularly scheduled dental visits (every six months) beginning when the first tooth appears but not later than their first birthday.
Early dental visits can help determine if toddlers need preventive measures like fluoride treatments, says Rutkauskas. It's also an opportunity to teach parents to better understand and care for their child's teeth and gums.