by Cassandra R. Elias
Around the country, it seems that more young children are being treated for extensive cavities, often under general anesthesia. Dentists are finding preschoolers with numerous baby teeth requiring fillings, root canals and crowns.
Dentists at Seattle Children's Hospital tell the N.Y. Times about a not so typical case of a two and a half year old boy who had 11 of his 20 teeth in need of repair. Two incisors were extracted, one root canal was performed and the rest got fillings and crowns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted an increase, the first in 40 years, in the number of preschoolers with cavities in a study five years ago.
But dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 to 10 cavities or more. The level of decay, they added, is so severe that they often recommend using general anesthesia because young children are unlikely to sit through such extensive procedures while they are awake.
"We have had a huge increase in kids going to the operating room," said Dr. Jonathan Shenkin a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Me., and a spokesman for the American Dental Association. "We’re treating more kids more aggressively earlier."
Dentists suggest there are many reasons preschoolers suffer from so much tooth decay. Although the reasons aren't new, they have combined to create a growing problem. Included in the list is the endless snacking and juice or other sweet drinks at bedtime young children consume.
Another issue are parents who choose bottled water rather than fluoridated tap water for their children.
An additional reason dentists cite as a big problem, is the lack of awareness that infants should, according to pediatric experts, visit a dentist by age one to be assessed for future cavity risk, even though they may have only a few teeth.
It's true that some toddlers hate having their teeth brushed but enforcement is key. Dr. Jed Best, a pediatric dentist in Manhattan said, "Let's say a child is one and a half, and the child screams when they get their teeth cleaned. Some parents say, 'I don’t want my little darling to be traumatized.' The metaphor I give them is, 'I'd much rather have a kid cry with a soft toothbrush than when I have to drill a cavity.'"
Dentists suggest a number of tips for parents to prevent the decay of baby teeth:
1) Take an infant to a dentist before the first birthday for an assessment of cavity risk, even if the child has only a few teeth.
2) In general, brush the teeth of children two or younger with a bit of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. At two years of age, start to use a pea-size dollop.
3) Reduce snacking. Eating any starchy or sugary food causes the pH level in the mouth to drop sharply, leaving teeth awash in an acid bath — murder on enamel — for 20 minutes until saliva normalizes the pH. The frequency of exposure to acid is more important than the sugar content of food.
4) Do not share utensils with a child or "clean" a pacifier in your mouth, then give it to your infant. Research has shown that parents or caregivers with active tooth decay can pass cavity-causing bacteria via saliva.
5) Brush preschoolers' teeth for them. "They are not in a position to effectively brush their teeth until they are 7 or 9," said Dr. John Hanna, the director at the pediatric dental surgery clinic at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
How old was your tiny tot when you first took them to the dentist?
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