Sippy cups and other hazards

Parents know it as the baby equivalent of a travel mug. What one-year-old doesn’t have a plastic cup with the spill-proof top she can suck on like a bottle? The problems arise when well-meaning parents give their little one a sippy cup of healthful, organic juice and let him suck on the sugary goodness all day long.

baby sucking on a bottle

Unlimited juice intake is a major contributor to childhood tooth decay, especially when the conduit is a sippy cup.

That’s one of the messages that Carole A. Palmer, a professor at both the Friedman School and the School of Dental Medicine, hopes to get across with “Soundbites,” a program on nutrition and oral health for pregnant women, infants and young children. A joint project of the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, Tufts dental school and Tufts-New England Medical Center, with funding from the Peabody Foundation, Soundbites is a video and guidebook that acts as a primer on primary teeth.

It answers questions like: Can a pregnant mother’s diet affect her unborn baby’s teeth? (Yes.) How often should you clean a baby’s teeth? (After every feeding.) When should they start brushing with fluoride toothpaste? (When they’re old enough to spit it out.)

Much of the video was filmed in the pediatric clinic at the dental school, where dentists spend more time than they would like doing surgery on toddlers with severe dental decay. The problem of early childhood cavities is widespread in underserved populations.

“Between the time the first tooth erupts and age 1, that’s when they should have their first visit to the dentist, but it very rarely happens,” Palmer said. “Parents don’t know to take them; they don’t know where to take them; they don’t necessarily have the money to take them. It is very evident that people who need the information are not going to get it through traditional sources such as going to the dentist.”

So along with parents, the Soundbites program is aimed at day care providers, social service agencies and others who work with young children.

“Dental problems can contribute to failure to thrive,” she said. “If you’re dealing with kids, they might already have dental problems that are affecting their eating, their growth and their behavior.”

Their behavior?

“If you had a sore tooth,” Palmer asked, “wouldn’t you be nasty?”

When Palmer presented the video to workers at a day care center, they began asking parents to bring in healthier snacks, avoiding dried fruits and chewy fruit candy that can damage young teeth.

As for sippy cups and bottles, they can be fine, as long as they aren’t just a toy for children to suck on leisurely.

For more information on the Soundbites program, e-mail