Many of us are used to routinely taking our children to the dentist and not being overly concerned about the dentist finding rampant cavities. The trend of decreasing tooth decay among children and young adults has been with us since the late 1960s.
Now, however, this trend seems to be coming to an end and is creating new cause for concern. According to the largest study on dental health in the last 25 years, tooth decay is on the increase in babies and children age 6 months to 5 years of age. The proportion of children with cavities has risen from 24 percent 20 years ago to 33 percent.
Rotten baby teeth cause the child discomfort and need to be filled. If the decay is extensive, a crown or extraction becomes necessary. Decayed primary teeth lead to higher rates of decay in permanent teeth. The early loss or destruction of baby teeth may lead to crowding of adult teeth.
Experts are concerned and agree that diet is a significant component of the marked increase. The same factors contributing to the obesity epidemic can also contribute to tooth decay.
Parents are giving their children more processed snack foods than in the past, as well as juice boxes and other sweetened drinks. Some health-conscious parents give their children bottled water, not realizing that tap water is fluoridated and serves to preserve the integrity of dental enamel.
Another reason for the increase in incidence of decay may be inadequate dental care. Young children cannot manage brushing their teeth properly, especially the back teeth.
What can you do? Good care begins in pregnancy. Your baby’s dentition starts developing in the 12th week of pregnancy. Observe the basic rules of healthy eating: fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, adequate fiber.
Once your baby is born, do not put your baby to sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth, as the sugars from the juice or milk remain on the teeth for hours and damage the enamel.
Running a damp washcloth over your baby’s gums following feedings can prevent build-up of damaging bacteria.
Young children need their teeth brushed, especially their back teeth, until they can tie their own shoes. Take your child to see the dentist at around age 3. The dentist can perform a modified exam while your child sits in your lap. Such visits can help in the early detection of decay and also help kids become accustomed to visiting the dentist and have no anxiety associated with these visits as they grow older.
At around this age, when all of your child’s teeth have come in, your dentist may start applying topical fluoride. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel and helps in preventing the quickly progressing tooth decay.
Although dental research has resulted in increasingly sophisticated preventive techniques, a dentist’s care is only part of the equation. The other components of a healthy mouth are good oral health habits (brushing and flossing) and what goes on the teeth — also known as nutritional habits. Limit the number of times during the day that your child has juice or soda. It is the repeated “sugar bath” that attacks the enamel and makes the teeth prone to decay. Increase the proportion of tap water, which contains fluoride (in most communities), in your child’s diet.
Many parents give their children nutrition bars and “power” bars as a quick and convenient energy booster. Unfortunately, these contain high amounts of carbohydrates and sugar which stick to the teeth and help dissolve the protective enamel of the teeth. Instead, aim for natural snacks such as nuts, carrots, fresh fruit, popcorn, whole-grain pretzels, cheese and such.
You will find your child fit and healthy, and seeing your child smile showing his healthy pearly whites will sweeten your day.