As our lives have become increasingly hectic and we try to multi-task in every facet of our world, this tends to spill over to our children. Scheduling appointments while making breakfast, answering emails while helping with homework, eating meals while driving to ball games…so goes the way of our society today. In this ever-changing, fast-paced world, the sippy cup has become as integral to our children as our cell phones have become to us – necessary gear for kids on the go. But recently, the sippy cup has come under fire by dentists, speech pathologists, and physicians.
The sippy cup is a traveling, non-spill, on-the-go cup that allows the toddler to transition from bottle to cup drinking without the spills and mess. Most sippy cups have a spout of some type that the child must suckle in order to draw the liquid from the cup, with no other way for the liquid to come out of the cup with the lid on. Suckling is when the tongue lays flat and moves forward and backward, the same as when drinking from a bottle. As the no-spill, no-mess factor of the sippy cup is all well and good, the tongue position used when suckling from the sippy cup is not conducive to appropriate tongue posture for speech development or positioning of the teeth. Drinking from a regular cup or straw, however, requires the tongue to pull back and the cheeks and lips to draw the liquid from the cup then send the liquid to the back of the tongue to be propelled down the throat. Accordingly, when we speak, our tongue is retracted in our mouth so use of a regular cup or straw helps our tongue muscles to practice the correct position. According to recent surveys enlisting preschool teachers, they have noted a shift in the articulation of speech of young kids. A preschool teacher from New Jersey stated, “What we’ve noticed in the past five or six years is that articulation for young children has totally disappeared. And I directly attribute it to the use of sippy cups.” So what is all the fuss about?
Sippy cups have been found to directly and/or indirectly contribute to:
- Overall poor development of muscles used for speech – Prolonged sippy cup use prevents the development of muscles that are needed for speaking and articulating because a child has not had practice using these muscles. The only sound in the English language that is produced with the tongue positioned forward and out of the mouth is the /th/ sound. When a child uses a sippy cup for an extended period, their tongue forms a habit of being in this position, therefore creating “sippy cup speech” – often perceived as an interdental lisp. For example, instead of saying “sing the song,” the child may say “thing the thong.”
- “Sippy cup mouth” – Children who use a sippy cup frequently throughout the day, sleep with it at night and continue to use it after the age of 2 years may have problems when their primary teeth arrive. The “sippy cup mouth” is an open bite, meaning that they have a gap between their upper and lower teeth when their back teeth are together. This open bite posture can impede their ability to pronounce various sounds like /s, z, sh, ch/.
- Tooth decay – The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states, “Sippy cups were created to help children transition from a bottle to drinking from a regular cup, but they’re too often used for convenience. When kids sip for extended periods on sugared beverages, they’re exposed to a higher risk of decay. Sippy cups should only contain water unless it’s mealtime.”
- Ear infections – Children who spend many hours lying down and drinking from a sippy cup are prone to develop ear infections. The Eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid normally made in the middle ear. When children drink from a sippy cup or bottle while lying down, gravity is then allowed to pull the liquid to the middle ear and possibly set up an environment for infection.
At Capital Region Medical Center’s Sam B. Cook Healthplex, the Pediatric Speech Therapy Department has the ability to assist you in developing a home program to facilitate appropriate drinking techniques, equipment, and tongue positioning for speech. Speech therapists at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex have access to various tools and programs to encourage proper oral muscle development for speech. Through the use of traditional therapy techniques as well as access to a Straw Program and Horn Program by the company TalkTools, therapists can develop a home program to aid in speech and oral motor development.
Lastly, I encourage you ALL to take the “Sippy Cup Challenge” – try drinking from a sippy cup for a day and see for yourself the change in your tongue position while drinking.
Written by J. Nikki Gaylord, MA, CCC-SLP
Capital Region Medical Center - Speech Therapy