Good Oral Health: Important In Childhood

Continuing on from Dr Mahony last article on Spouted Drinking Cup Warning, in this article he takes a look at how we can encourage good oral health teaching toddlers and babies how to use a smaller cup instead of a sipper cup.

“Babycup is a healthy drinking choice for your child. Spouts, and no-spill valves, mean a child has to suck, rather than sip. This contributes to poor facial and dental development. Developing healthy oral habits from an early age has a great influence on how your child’s teeth will develop. A young child’s teeth, jaws, and muscles are still growing so it’s a crucial time for parents to act.”

In an article on toddler diets, and oral health, the British Dental Health Foundation website says that drinks should be offered six to eight times a day. From an early age, these drinks should be sipped from a cup or glass, not sucked from a bottle. The same Foundation suggests starting by the time babies are about 6 months old, or when they are able to sit up and can hold things, on their own.

Using a lid, or spout, with a no-spill valve does not teach the child how to drink properly. Many of these lidded cups, or non-spill beakers, are marketed as training aids. In reality they are tools of convenience. Parents understandably might think they’ve helped their children as they reach for a no-spill cup and say “My baby is off the bottle.” But, as the American Dental Association concurs, they are baby bottles in disguise. Cups, with valves, do not allow a child to sip. Children have no choice except to suck – as from a baby bottle. The ADA says to avoid no-spill valves. (It is important to note that the action of suckling on a breast is an entirely different oral process from sucking on a drinking cup spout).

Speech Difficulties?

When a child sucks a thumb, the tongue is misplaced in order to accommodate the intrusion in the palate, and the teeth are pushed forward, say orofacial myologists (a field of study that looks at how certain structural or functional factors, in the mouth, can cause speech and swallowing issues). Studies have been carried out on thumb sucking, or finger sucking, and bottle use – but not on spouted cups. However, logic, and the belief of a growing number of health professionals, suggests the physiological effects are the same when a hard spout is placed in the mouth. An internet search brings up numerous discussions showing speech therapists and orofacial myologists, discussing this point, with the added concerns that regular, and prolonged, use of hard- spouted cups are causing difficulty with articulation, clarity of speech, proper swallowing and excessive drooling.

Healthy Habits

Many health professionals, and nutrition experts, agree that toddlers should be taking their snacks, including drinks, sitting at a table or in the highchair.

Some parents are concerned that their toddler may become dehydrated, in the summer months, if not left to drink freely. If the child is regularly taken into the kitchen, and offered a small cup, containing a few ounces/ml’s of milk or cool water, there is no risk of dehydration.

It is amazing how quickly toddlers will learn to drink from a regular cup – even without a free-flow spout!

Parents might understandably worry about how to tackle the task of teaching a child, (who is used to throwing a non-spill valved cup on to the floor without consequence), that a ‘big girl/big boy cup’ can spill and create a mess.

Begin slowly. 1oz or less, or just 20ml at a time. Milk or water. Be close at hand. Help. Guide the child. Let your hand hover nearby if need be. Be ready to take the cup if spills concern you. Help your child find the table/surface so they start to feel how to place the cup back down and pick it up again.

Sara Keel’s belief is that her baby-sized Babycup, also helps encourage fine motor skills. Keel says, “As well as the dental and facial growth benefits, of using a Babycup, I wanted my children to actually learn the art of holding something in their hands, without the aid of a lid or handle. These handles and spouts are like having stabilisers on a bike – all very well until you want to take them off and then it can be a shock to the system. The advent of balance bikes has been a great example of stripping back the unnecessary aids: many children who learn to use balance bikes are able to progress seamlessly onto bigger pedal bikes, without anything to help them artificially balance, or without them having to ‘relearn’ skills. Babycup is a similar idea. Remove the unnecessary steps. Simply let your child learn the skill now, rather than later. You’ll be amazed, and very proud, when you see what they can do when you give them the chance. I’m certain that later on, when they have grown bigger, children will move on to normal-sized open cups, with much more ease, than their spout-sucking contemporaries.”

“My second and third children both used mini cups, from the age of 6 months, and their fine motor skills really improved. My youngest’s pencil grip, at 11 months, was more advanced than many 5 year olds” says Keel.

Small Changes, Big Differences

With so many gadgets and gizmos on offer, it’s easy to see how we become spoiled. But with lids and valves we become unaccustomed to the mess of a cup spilling, and this is a mistake. Our carpets become more treasured than our children. There is an easy change to be made, in order to help reverse the trend for crooked smiles; poorly developed faces, jaws and teeth; dental decay; speech impediments and a host of other early childhood health problems. Fill cups less and, like the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests, switch to an open cup as soon as your child can manage it.

The Babycup range of open cups is made with little people in mind. They really are little cups for little people. Translucent, so baby can see inside, they are tiny versions of a regular cup.

Keel feels that the barrier to helping reduce these childhood health problems, and to a baby developing excellent fine motor skills, is us, “It’s so often our own decisions as parents – or our own fears or prejudices – that stop our babies and children from developing in the most natural, and healthy, way. It’s up to us, as parents, to change that modern trend.”

Article by: Dr Derek Mahony(Specialist Orthodontist) and Dr Julian Keel (Cranial chiropractor)

Further information:

Dr Derek Mahony – and


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