Recent press stories have reported that dentists are seeing increasing numbers of very young children, including toddlers in some cases, with a mouthful of cavities. Beccastone asked Contributor Dr. Michael Battle, a practicing dentist with offices in Charlotte and High Point, North Carolina, to comment on how this happens and suggest some preventative measures.
Q: Have you seen an increase in cavities among very young children and can you comment on why this is happening?
A: Recent articles have shed light on the fact that the number one chronic disease in children is dental decay. This is true across all socioeconomic boundaries. This silent epidemic is related to the high amount of sugars and starches in the foods that children increasingly consume. Also, many parents give their babies bottles to go to sleep with, and the formulas or juices just pool around newly erupted teeth and eat away at the enamel. In many communities, there has been a reduction or elimination of fluoride in the water and even where the water is fluoridated, parents may be giving their children bottled water. And, parents are simply not brushing their children’s teeth. I have had some parents say that they didn’t know how or when to brush their child’s teeth.. Some parents also claim that the “brushing experience” is too stressful because the child refuses to participate. This results in the parents not teaching children fundamental hygiene habits. Finally, parents are not taking their children to the dentist at an early enough age.
Once young children have multiple teeth with decay, it becomes very difficult to treat them without general anesthesia. We use anesthesia in part to minimize the possibility that the child will develop further fears and phobias related to dental visits.
Q: Is children’s tooth decay a particular problem in the African American community?
A: Minority children have been especially prone to a greater amount of decay as a result of dietary habits which include high amounts of sugar and starch.
Q: What can parents do to prevent dental decay?
A: The simplest way to combat tooth decay is to drink water and rinse the mouth after consuming sugary foods and drinks. Some other things parents should do is to begin brushing their child’s teeth as soon as they are visible. This can be done with a soft brush or cloth. As the child gets older and can hold a toothbrush, the child should be taught to brush his or her teeth at least twice daily, in the morning and before bed. Parents should bring their children to the dentist in the child’s first or second year of life. After visiting the dentist, children should receive fluoride treatments and begin using fluoride toothpaste.
Q: What are dental sealants and can they help prevent children’s cavities?
A: Sealants are applied to the crevices of teeth to protect against decay. Using sealants is good practice but is not usually recommended until the child’s permanent teeth have erupted, generally between 6 and 12 years of age. Therefore, sealants are not a solution in the case of very young children and toddlers because they still have most of their primary or “baby” teeth. Also, the dentist should only seal teeth that are free of decay. That would mean sealing the permanent teeth soon after they erupt and maintaining good oral hygiene with proper brushing, flossing, rinsing and regular dental check-ups.
For more information about dental care, visit Dr. Battle’s website.