Research shows that children’s tooth decay is on the rise, but there are numerous preventative measures to ensure oral health, and subsequently, general health.
The standard advice for a healthy smile still holds true, including brushing after meals, flossing once a day, dental cleanings twice a year, and not consuming too much candy. However, somehow this information is not getting passed along to young children. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, tooth decay in primary (baby) teeth has increased among children aged 2 to 5 years across all income levels. This finding makes tooth decay the most pervasive chronic disease among children, five times more prevalent than asthma.
Water fluoridation, the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply, has helped largely to prevent cavities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control listed water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th Century. However, the reason for the increase of cavities is linked to sugary and acidic drinks and foods, including energy drinks and soft drinks.
Early Childhood Tooth Decay is tooth decay that occurs in the primary teeth of young children. It arises when the child’s teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids for long periods of time. Such liquids include fruit juice, soda and other sweetened liquids, milk, breast milk and formula.
Eating patterns and food choices are important factors among children that affect how quickly tooth decay may develop. The reason is a sticky film of bacteria, called “plaque,” that constantly forms on teeth and gums. Every time bacteria comes in contact with sugar and starch in the mouth, acid is produced, which attacks teeth for 20 minutes or longer. After many attacks, tooth decay can develop. Additionally, prolonged exposure to acids can do permanent damage to teeth by producing a condition called “erosion,” or the loss of hard tissues for the tooth surface.
Tooth decay can begin as soon as a baby’s teeth come in, usually by age six months or so. Decay in baby teeth can cause pain, and if left untreated, can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child, leaving permanent teeth to grow improperly. Tooth decay can also have an effect on a child’s general health as he/she may have difficulty eating, resulting in poor nutrition.
Babies and young children rely on parents and caregivers for good health. Take an active role in caring for your child’s teeth by cleaning them at home, providing a balanced and health diet, and scheduling regular dental visits.
It’s helpful for the first dental visit to occur within six months after the first tooth appears, and no later than the first birthday. During this visit, the dentist can check for decay and other conditions and show you how to properly clean your child’s teeth. It’s important that parents and caregivers start oral care early at home by teaching and practicing health habits that children will continue into adulthood.