Choosing a baby cup : the dangers of non-spill valves and sippy cups

Choosing a baby cup : the dangers of non-spill valves and sippy cups


“Choosing an open cup means you are allowing your child to develop a healthy sipping habit.” That is the thought of world-renowned Orthodontist Dr Derek Mahony 
BDS(Syd) MScOrth(Lon) DOrthRCS(Edin) of Full Face Orthodontics Pty Ltd, Australia.

There is an increasing belief, amongst numerous healthcare disciplines – orthodontists, dentists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, orofacial myologists to name but a few – that no-spill valves, and spouted drinking cups, are the cause of many childhood problems, including crooked or crowded teeth, tooth decay, speech impediments, speech delays, chewing problems, swallowing problems, otitis media (ear infections; also glue ear), and poor facial development. Many of these problems are often discussed in connection with prolonged bottle use, so it is no surprise that many of these healthcare professionals describe no-spill drinking cups as ‘baby bottles in disguise’. These bottle substitutes often end up being used, long past the age that is otherwise recommended for bottle weaning.


‘Baby bottle caries or drinking-cup caries’ – not a healthy situation & sadly all too common

Whilst there are many areas of raising children for which technology can be argued as having brought great benefits, drinking is one aspect for which more and more leading healthcare specialists are urging parents to go back to basics and drop the “no-spill” gadgets and valves.

‘Babycup’ came about in order to offer a healthy and safe alternative to what many of us have come to take as the norm – these sippy cups or no-spill cups and baby cups with lids and spouts. Babycup is an open baby cup and is as simple a cup as you could possibly imagine. No lid, no handles, and best of all no spout. Babycup is purely and simply a ‘cup-shaped cup’, but with the added bonus of being miniature, in order to be beautifully baby-sized. Made from durable, non-toxic plastic, Babycup is BPA free and phthalates free and has been UK lab tested to ensure it conforms to European legislation. It is small and rather cute and fits neatly in the palm of a young child’s hand.

‘Babycup’ drinking: babies can soon master the art of using an open cup


I was frustrated by the fact that infant cups are fairly large and for 6 month olds they are often the equivalent of an adult drinking from a bucket. I also disliked the idea of my children constantly drinking from a spout or teat. Working initially on instinct I delved deeper into the subject and found an alarming body of “growing concern”, backing up my fear that spouts and no-spill valves were not just without any health benefits, they were potentially damaging for a baby or child’s developing teeth, jaws and palate.

Malocclusions and Dental Caries

Regular interference, such as pressure from an intruder like a thumb or spout, is thought to contribute to malformation of the hard palate, leading to malocclusions (incorrect teeth and jaw positions) and the need for “expensive” orthodontic work, as the child grows older.

The Myofunctional Research Co. explained on its website that research reveals muscles are a significant factor in causing malocclusion[1]. MRCo. also explained that incorrect arch form is responsible for the high prevalence of malocclusion, but the arch is primarily a product of the position of the tongue and function of the lips and the forces exerted on teeth by the lips and tongue determine tooth position – giving the example that only 1.7 grams of pressure is needed to move teeth. Put this figure alongside information showing the tongue can exert a force of 500 grams and it is easy to consider that altering the position of the tongue can alter the upper arch and the position of teeth. MRCo. says that children develop most rapidly between the ages of 2 and 5 and that during this period 70% of the growth of a child’s face and jaw occurs. They have cited dummies, thumb sucking and baby cups, (not meaning open cups), as all contributing to poor facial and dental development.

Another alarming problem is the potential for tooth decay, or ‘early childhood caries’ (also known as ‘baby bottle caries’, ‘nursing bottle caries’, or ‘sucking cup caries’[2]). Tooth decay develops when a baby’s mouth is infected by acid-producing bacteria. It also develops when the child’s teeth, and gums, are exposed to any liquids or foods (other than water) for extended periods.

Cups with lids and spouts, especially those incorporating spill-proof valves, are more likely to be given to children for them to carry around over extended periods, sometimes even being taken to bed. Sugared liquids (that includes milk; but not breastmilk[3] [4] [5] [6] [7]), from these receptacles, have been shown to increase tooth decay due to this likelihood to drink from them beyond just mealtimes. According to the American Academy of Pediactrics ‘tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood.’

The American Dental Association advises that to help prevent tooth decay children should be encouraged to drink from a cup, by their first birthday.

An infant and toddler forum factsheet, reviewed and supported by the British Dental Health Foundation, says all drinks should be taken from a cup or glass, not a bottle. It also reports ‘by the time they are five years old, over 30% of children in the UK have dental decay’.

A change as simple as giving a child an open cup could help improve this worrying statistic. As the same factsheet says: “it is easier to prevent decay than to treat it”.

Bacterial Contamination

Some studies demonstrate a hygiene, and illness concern, as children who drink from bottles and sippy cups are more likely to be drinking liquids that have not been freshly poured and spouts are more difficult to sanitise than an open cup. The World Health Organisation’s website advises that cups are less likely, than bottles, to be carried around for a long time, giving bacteria time to breed.

Unsteady Feet and Drinking On The Move – An Injury-Prone Combination

There are also some astounding statistics showing high levels of childhood injuries are due to toddlers drinking from spouted cups whilst walking.[8]

Good Oral Health: Important In Childhood

Dr Mahony also explains, “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 steer their infants away from needing extensive orthodontic treatment later in life.”

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, and from as early an age, as possible, 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 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).

No-spill cups are often thrown on the floor, chewed by soft baby teeth and drunk from whilst laying flat on the ground. This allows the contents to flow directly into the Eustachian tubes.

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, 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.

Parents who are concerned that their toddler would become dehydrated, in the summer months, if not left to drink freely, need not worry. 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 near by 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.

My youngest’s fine motor skills at 14 months - pencil grip

fine motor skills

I believe that our baby-sized Babycup, helps encourage fine motor skills. As well as the dental and facial growth benefits, of using a Babycup, I also 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.

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 and come in pink, blue, green or yellow.

The Babycup range of open cups

One of the main barriers 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.

Give your little ones an open cup and you will be so proud of them when they learn to use it.

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[1] Graber, TM. “The three M’s: muscle, malformation, and malocclusion.” Am J Ortho Dentofacial Orthop. 1963; June:418-450.

[2] Reagan L (2002). Big bad cavities: breastfeeding is not the cause. Mothering 113:38-47.

[3] Arnold RR et al (1977). A bactericidal effect on human lactoferrin. Science 197(4300):263-5.

[4] Erickson PR, Mazhare E (1999). Investigation of the role of human breast milk in caries development. Pediatric Dentistry 21:86-90.

[5] McDougall W (1977). Effect of milk on enamel demineralisation and remineralisation in vitro. Caries Research 40:1025-8.

[6] Tinanoff N, O’Sullivan DM (1997). Early childhood caries: overview and recent findings. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

[7] Trotter S (2006). Cup feeding revisited. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 16, no 3, September 2006, p397-402.

[8] Injuries associated with bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups in the United States, 1991-2010 SA. Keim and MRW TePoel. Pediatrics Vol.129 No.6 June 1, 2012