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Tooth Decay in Children

Young, curious, and full of life, children serve as our guarantee that the future will be promising; therefore, their health should take presentence in today’s society. However, because of misinformation and lack of awareness, the health of our nation’s children is worsening, and it all begins in the mouth.


Just how common is a dirty mouth?

Scary as it seems, tooth decay in youngsters is now the number one chronic infectious disease in children. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is five times more common in kids than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. A recent Case Western Reserve University Study found that in a screening of 3000 Head Start children, 45% had early tooth decay as compared to the national average of 27%. Even more alarming, the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies’ and Children’s Hospital reports tooth aches to be the number one pediatric emergency. This emergency doesn’t just involve children and hospitals, for 50 million hours of school were missed last year by children with tooth aches, making this an important concern for any parent.


The silence of decay

It is quite common for parents to give their young children sippy cups or bottles throughout their infancy; however, it is what goes into these containers that causes early tooth decay. In an effort to keep their infant occupied, parents often give their children milk, water, or, most alarmingly, soda-pop. Tooth decay does not happen instantly; instead it is a progressive problem that develops on the back of the teeth. The sugars in these drinks, besides water, slowly eat away at the sensitive teeth of the child. However, by the time this decay makes its way to the front of the teeth, significant dental caries have already formed. To symbolize the danger of giving children sugared beverages, especially through a bottle or sippy cup, parents should look to the delicate nature of infant teeth. For example, if a primary tooth is left in a glass of soda-pop, it will dissolve within one week’s time.


Why tooth decay should matter to you

Parents should realize that a child’s mouth is more than just a single part of them; it is a gateway for their entire body and overall health. If child tooth decay goes untreated, the child is subject to many harmful, if not fatal, infections. Some negative effects of dental carries include:

  • Complete tooth decay, resulting in loss of tooth
  • Spread of decay to surrounding teeth
  • Slowing of overall growth or development
  • Formation of tooth abscess- collection of infected pus caused by bacteria infections within teeth
  • Spreading of infection to surrounding soft tissue or the jaw bone
  • Spreading of infection throughout the body to places like the neck or brain


The secret lies in prevention

As startling and dangerous as these oral issues seem, parents can take comfort in the fact that they are 100 % preventable through oral hygiene and routine dentist visits. To help protect the dental and overall health of their child, parents should be sure to do the following:

  • Make sure their child sees a dentist by age 1
  • Ask a dentist if the child is eligible to receive a fluoride varnish application twice a year (This application protects the child’s teeth and re-mineralizes areas of decay)
  • Keep in mind that the earlier the treatment the better. By age 2 it is too late to provide some protective measure like the fluoride varnish
  • Don’t be afraid to seek proper care

It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure their family doctor or pediatrician is adequately screening their child for tooth decay. Also, if tooth decay is discovered, make sure they do refer you to the proper dentist or specialist. The American Academy of Pediatrics finds that 96% of primary care doctors do take the time to refer parents of children with tooth decay to a dentist. However, the study found that only half of the time will your doctor take the time to schedule the appointment for you. Therefore, it is ultimately up to you to seek the best care for your child.


Is my physician as mouth-savvy as my dentist?

At some point, you may choose to combine your healthcare by bringing up dental issues to your primary care physician. However, consumers must determine if their doctor is as well-versed in mouth issues as a dentist. Though this varies from doctor to doctor, it is indeed possible for your doctor to screen for oral issues just as well as your dentist. In fact, with two to five hours of training, doctors, nurses, and physician assistants are able to give effective dental exams that can find cause for referral to a dentist.


What can I do to protect my child’s teeth?

The care of primary teeth is just as important as the care of adult teeth; therefore, parents should make sure their child’s teeth are kept healthy, even if they are bound to fall out in the future. There are many ways that parents can ensure the best dental health of their kids:

  • Have them brush with a soft-bristled tooth brush; hard bristles can break down the gums and cause infection in children
  • Make sure only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is used- any more than that can result in a harmful overdose of fluoride
  • Make sure your child is drinking enough water- water contains small levels of fluoride, which protects teeth
  • Don’t use bottles or sippy cups as a way to keep your child busy- these containers allow sugary drinks to attack the teeth from behind


Hope Through Research – You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about tooth decay in children. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:


For more information:

Go to the Dental and Oral Health (Children) health topic.