Feb 13, 2009

Are Sippy Cups Evil?

I've decided to blog about some inaccurate information I encounter floating around on the net. It mostly bothers me because I've been witness to misinformation being spread for eons as a result of belonging to many parenting groups on varying topics. One person says it with some sort of authority and it gets repeated and repeated and repeated as fact, black and white, no gray areas, either/or.

The most important point I'm trying to make is that it takes some common sense to differentiate between what is a fact and what isn't and the ability to recognize that so-called "rules" and "guidelines" are usually geared, in most cases, to combat the worst-case scenario, i.e. the person with the least common sense. Also, frequently, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason in the way of an explanation of "what went wrong." Often, firsttime parents are merely wanting to do absolutely everything just right and are the most guilty of parroting the learned "facts" and judging others for not following suit. I think we are all a little guilty of this in one respect or another on a wide variety of parenting topics in the beginning or simply when we learn we are supposed to be doing this in order to feel like we are doing it right.

So, let's start with those who believe sippy cups are evil, that they will ruin your child's teeth either via decay or by causing alignment problems.

The answer is, NO, a sippy cup itself will not cause alignment problems OR cavities. It is the misuse and abuse of these items that can. For every person who likes to lay blame of their child's braces or cavities on a sippy cup, there is another whose child has perfect teeth and no cavities. Why? Because genetics plays the biggest role in what type of teeth your children will be blessed with. Environmental factors can also contribute. All external forces working on them through the years can either exacerbate a condition one is prone to or bring a condition about full force.

Sadly, there are many people in this world who become parents that have no remotely educated knowledge base or have a lack of common sense regarding such issues. As a result, rules are instituted to save the children of these people. Some people will search for the answers to topics and yet interpret the text they encounter in the way they WANT it to read.

The authoritative professional organizations clearly indicate that ECC (early childhood caries) or "bottle rot" is caused by PROLONGED contact with liquids or foods other than water whether the mode of delivery is via sippy cup, bottle, **OR** breast. Does it really need to be explained that a combination of prolonged usage of any of these 3 would also contribute? Does it really need to be explained that prolonged usage does NOT mean the length of time your child used any of these 3 overall, i.e. from 12 months to 36 months of age, but rather how much time each day is spent sucking on them?

Many speech therapists also indicate that an open-bite malocclusion (misalignment) AND speech development issues commonly DO occur as a result of, again, you guessed it, PROLONGED sippy cup usage. They, too, point out that this means walking around with and consuming from a sippy cup all day long and/or all night long (and add to that allowing your child to suck on a pacifier all day long for a prolonged duration) and, yes, an open bite can happen, but we can discuss pacifiers specifically another day, which are also not evil.

The point here is that, no, sippy cups are not evil, nor will they be the root cause for everything and anything that goes wrong with your child's teeth if used appropriately.

What you need to do is evaluate your parenting style and remember that with everything else in parenting, moderation is key.

Fruit juice can be okay as well - look up the guidelines on the recommended amounts per age that are available. Some children don't take in an adequate amount of water and require a diluted-with-water juice on occasion, whether it be during an illness or on a short-term daily basis. Get creative with the ways to eliminate unnecessary juices completely - change the dilution factor to where eventually the child is drinking only water. My pediatrician shared that daily orange juice each morning is completely fine and the best juice for them out of all the rest.

In fact, although I find no studies have been quoted, some professionals have indicated that sippy cups are better than bottles for use by children in daycare due to the level of exposure to bacteria each offers to a child regarding the development of ear infections.

Take preventative steps early on when introducing the sippy cup to ensure no bad habits are formed. Your child shouldn't be allowed to walk around the house with a constantly full sippy cup. Let them get thirsty and request a drink so that they drink as much as they need to quickly to quench their thirst. If they want to take it to another room while drinking it, give them about 10-15 minutes, then go behind them, scoop it up and put it out of reach on the kitchen counter. This means, however, that you will receive requests for water multiple times a day and even at night, and that you will need to get off your rear to accommodate them.

Don't hand off a sippy-cupful of chocolate milk, juice, or pop/soda (I'm not even going to ask why on earth you may be giving your toddler pop/soda) just so you can get through a conversation to keep them quiet. If you feel it is a rare treat to offer special sugary drinks, even naturally occurring sugars, then offer it up at the table at mealtime with the meal only.

Combating the dependence upon a sippy cup starts the very first time you substitute the breast or a bottle with that sippy cup. Don't allow the children to use it for comfort. Establish immediately that the sippy cup is a very temporary solution to a problem - thirst.

An active day to prevent dehydration outdoors is the only circumstance I can think of where a child should have a sippy-cupful of even water handy at all times.

If you have been successful in not nurturing the development of any dependence or bad habits in relation to the sippy cup, it is even okay to let your toddler have a sippy-cupful of water next to his/her bedside to grab during the night. You know why? Because they will take their drink and set it back down.

While sippy cups with straws are in fact more beneficial for the proper development of muscles used in speech, the use of them specifically will not guarantee your child will have no speech issues. Straw cups are harder to clean, especially if you find one under the back seat of your car a month later. Again, however, prolonged use of the straw sippy can also contribute to cavities, as will constant exposure to liquids via a regular open cup. The issue regarding cavities is the frequency and duration of exposure to bathing the teeth in these sugary or acidic substances and how the various substances trigger the various biological mechanisms within the body that contribute to or combat decay as well.

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