Bottles, sippy cups, and your child’s teeth—tips to help avoid childhood tooth decay

February 7, 2023
By Kelli Broyles, Division of Public Health

Although tooth decay is largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. The Idaho Oral Health Program strives to support prevention services, including oral health education aimed at reducing children’s decay rates in Idaho.

As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. One of the risk factors for early childhood cavities (sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay or nursing mouth syndrome) is frequent and prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to liquids, such as fruit juice, milk, or formula, which all contain sugar.

Tooth decay can also occur when a baby is put to bed with a bottle. Infants should finish their naptime or bedtime bottle before going to bed. Because decay can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child, you should encourage your children to drink from a cup by their first birthday.

Training cup tips to help prevent tooth decay in children

For sipping success, carefully choose and use a training cup. It is best to choose a training cup that does not have a no-spill valve. The valve requires a child to suck—similar to a bottle—and does not allow the child to learn to sip. As your child’s first birthday approaches, encourage them to drink from a cup. As this changeover from baby bottle to training cup takes place, consider:

  • What kind of training cup you choose
  • What goes into the cup (serve milk at mealtime and water between meals)
  • How frequently your child sips from it

Talk with your dentist for more information, and if your child has not yet had a dental examination, schedule a well-baby checkup for his or her teeth. The American Dental Association recommends a first dental visit before a child’s first birthday.

The link between sugar and tooth decay

Consuming too much sugar can dramatically affect dental health, as well as overall health. Sugar on teeth provides food for bacteria, which produce acid. The acid can eat away tooth enamel.

Almost all foods have some type of sugar that cannot and should not be eliminated from our children’s diets. Many of these foods contain important nutrients and add enjoyment to eating. But there is a risk for tooth decay from a diet high in sugars and starches. Starches can be found in everything from bread to pretzels to salad dressing, so read labels and plan carefully for a balanced, nutritious diet for you and your kids.

Reduce your children’s risk of tooth decay by following some of the following tips:

  • Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.
  • Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
  • If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless – Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
  • Monitor beverage consumption – Children should make healthy beverage choices such water and low-fat milk.
  • Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.
  • Schedule regular dental visits.

Brushing and flossing your child’s teeth

It’s important to develop routine dental habits for your child even before teeth come in. Before the first tooth, you can wipe your baby’s gums with a clean washcloth or gauze after feeding.

Once teeth begin to come in, transition to a soft-bristled toothbrush, brushing twice a day, after breakfast and before bed. Using a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice), will help protect teeth from decay. A pea sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste can be used at age 3, or once the child learns how to spit out the toothpaste.

Begin flossing your child’s teeth once a day when the teeth touch each other. Children usually need assistance with brushing and flossing until age 7 or 8.

Tips for making good oral health habits routine:

  • Start habits early, even before the first tooth
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice a day
  • Use the recommended amount of fluoridated toothpaste
  • Model good brushing and flossing habits for your child
  • Make brushing fun by using sticker charts or listening to a favorite song while brushing

Where can parents and caregivers go for more information or to locate resources?

Kelli Broyles has worked as the oral health program specialist with the Division of Public Health for three years. She has been a registered dental hygienist for more than 25 years and prior to joining the oral health program, delivered dental care in both public health and private dental settings.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening Idahoans' health, safety, and independence. Learn more at

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