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Dental Decay Among the Very Young: First Jump in Decades

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Dental Decay Among the Very Young: Rising

Dental Decay Among the Very Young: First Jump in Decades

September 04, 2007
By: Beth Walsh for Dental1

A report released earlier this year found that more than one quarter of children ages two to five have had at least one cavity in their primary teeth. The report from the National Center for Health Statistics is based on data compiled from 1999 to 2004 and represents an increase when compared to data compiled from 1988 to 1994. Before this latest report, there was no real change in the prevalence of tooth decay in baby teeth for that age group in more than 20 years. This increase of just under four percentage points represents tens of thousands of American children.
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  • Children risk severe decay from using a bottle during naps or at night or when they breastfeed continuously. Encourage your child to drink from a cup as they approach their first birthday. Children should not fall asleep with a bottle. At-will nighttime breast-feeding should be avoided after the first primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt. Wean your child from the bottle around 12 to 14 months of age. Only offer juice in a cup.
  • Introduce dental cleanings early. Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush and water. As your child gets older, remember that most small children do not have the dexterity to brush their teeth effectively. Unless it is advised by your child’s dentist, do not use fluoridated toothpaste until ages two to three.

  • On the other hand, the report showed that tooth decay in permanent teeth of children ages six to 11 dropped from 25 to 21 percent. That figure also dropped in children ages 12 to 19, from 68 to 59 percent. Before the most recent report, there had been no real change in the prevalence of tooth decay in the baby teeth of children in that age group in over 20 years.

    Tooth decay is a progressive disease that often begins in very young children. Decay is a result of the interaction between the bacteria on teeth and sugars in the typical diet. The bacteria use those sugars to produce acid, and a tooth exposed to this acid loses mineral; that loss is the first step toward tooth decay. It is very important that primary teeth are kept until they are lost naturally. They serve a number of important functions, such as helping to maintain good nutrition by permitting your child to chew properly, allowing good pronunciation and speech habits, and guiding the proper eruption of permanent teeth.

    Researchers attribute baby teeth cavities to sugar, not enough fluoride and poor dental habits. Small children who sip on juice all day are bathing their teeth in the acid that causes cavities. While most communities have fluoridated tap water, many children are drinking fluoride-free bottled water or juice boxes for convenience. Missing out on that fluoride could contribute to the prevalence of cavities. Parents also may not be cleaning their children’s teeth daily, perhaps believing that baby teeth don’t require as much care, which can set the stage for poor dental habits as the children grow older and their permanent teeth come in.

    Children should visit a pediatric dentist when their first tooth comes in, which usually occurs between six and twelve months of age. Early examination and preventive care help establish good habits. Dental problems can begin early and the earlier the dental visit, the better the chances of preventing dental problems. Children with healthy teeth chew food easily, learn to speak clearly, and smile with confidence.

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