Family Matters

Do Sippy Cups Deserve a Warning Label?

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Beware the perils of the sippy cup. In New York state, at least, cigarettes and alcohol may not be the only items to warrant warning labels. The legislature wants sippies — those handy-dandy drinking vessels that purport to prevent liquid from spilling out — to feature warnings about childhood tooth decay.

This is the second year that the N.Y. legislature has given the green light for a tooth-decay warning label; it was vetoed last year by former Gov. David Paterson. This time, it heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for approval. A spokesman said Friday it’s still under review, so we’ll have to wait and see whether Cuomo will give it the same nod he gave to gay marriage and property-tax caps.

MORE: Babies on the Bottle: How Long Is Too Long?

Of course, the prospect of tooth decay is real, and public-health campaigns are well-advised to raise awareness that babies and toddlers who go to bed with bottles or sippy cups filled with anything other than water are prone to cavities. In any case, many pediatricians and dentists already caution parents against giving baby a bottle of milk to cuddle at bedtime.

“I can show you photos of children who go to bed with sippy cups,” Mark Feldman, executive director of New York’s Dental Association, which lobbied for the bill, told the New York Daily News. “All you see is little black stumps that is all that is left of the teeth,” he added.

Tooth decay can start as soon as baby’s first tooth pushes through her gums, often around six months, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). And well-intentioned mom can be an unwitting culprit. Because bacteria are transmitted through saliva, a parent who tastes baby’s pureed apricots to make sure they’re not too hot then puts the same spoon in baby’s mouth is creating a bacterial pathway to decay.

MORE: Are Cavities Really Contagious?

Exposing teeth to sugary liquids like milk or juice is also a factor. Liquid can pool around teeth, particularly when baby falls asleep with a bottle or cup.

According to the ADA website:

Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. They then produce acids that attack the teeth. Each time your child drinks these liquids, acids attack for 20 minutes or longer. After multiple attacks, the teeth can decay.

Sounds scary. But legislation? For sippy cups? Come on.

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.