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Little Cavities

Little Cavities

Last month I hit a personal low. While I never thought of myself as having a pristine set of teeth, the idea of having a root canal seemed like a mark of shame I would never have to endure. Well when I was told a root canal was suggested (no, not “suggested” but absolutely necessary), I felt gravely disappointed in myself along with a palpable sense of shame. Maybe it was an indicator of the imminent breakdown of these 35 year-old teeth, or some slack dental hygiene, or maybe I was just getting older.

Whatever the cause (and rest easy, the procedure was not nearly as bad as I had feared) I was told by my dentist that root canals have become increasingly popular/necessary for people of all ages, including very young children. This little bit of data was quickly substantiated with an article that ran in The New York Times earlier in the month about preschoolers in need of oral surgery due to their lousy eating habits and lack of dental hygiene. In the article, writer Catherine Saint Louis makes a fairly convincing case for the necessity of reform when it comes to caring for the baby teeth of the preschool set, including a report of a 2 ½ year-old with 11 cavities in his 20 teeth. 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 article goes on to describe, “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.”

This problem is seemingly pretty widespread (and not just in low income demographics) and can be blamed upon everything from endless snacking, to an excessive amount of sugar treats and juices, and parents lack of commitment in getting their children to brush (or more appropriately, getting in there with a toothbrush themselves).

The article lays out a set of tips for healthy teeth and gums, particularly for baby teeth (see below):

Dentists suggest a number of tips for parents to prevent the decay of baby teeth:

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.

In general, brush the teeth of children 2 or younger with a bit of fluoride toothpaste twice a day. At 2, start to use a pea-size dollop.

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.

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.

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.

The takeaway from all of this is that we, as parents, have grown too lax and have passively perpetuated bad habits, which are costing our kids their teeth (I am generalizing, as not every child has a mouthful of rotten teeth). When children as young as 2 and 3 are in need of root canals and multiple cavity fillings, something is desperately wrong. What is your take on these reports of widespread yuck mouth among children? Is it overblown or an indicator of bad choices and low-level parental neglect? Have you had first-hand experiences dealing with children and their rotting teeth? How have you avoided loosing those baby teeth to rot and decay?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Family, Health, Parenting at the Crossroads, , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

45 comments

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8:35PM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

11:45AM PDT on Apr 11, 2013

I can believe this. one of my nieces had 13 cavities when she was around 9 and a friend's kid had 10 when she was around 4. my first cavity was at 17- which was weird b/c I was always brushing my teeth to make them white and have fresh breath.

4:32AM PDT on Sep 22, 2012

Kids teeth problem are so common problem now a day which make worry to all parents. For finding best dentist in california go with:- http://www.allsmileskidsdentistry.com

11:28AM PDT on Aug 2, 2012

thanks

12:29PM PDT on Jun 25, 2012

Witch fluoride in drinking water is called?

7:19AM PDT on Jun 25, 2012

CA requires a dental exam prior to entering school

9:29AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

I am 21 and have never had a cavity. I've always been a diligent brusher (although I really could do a better job flossing). Luckily, my 2 yr old loves to copy me, and he always seems so excited to brush his teeth. Good hygiene habits started early are key!

6:02PM PDT on Apr 17, 2012

OUCH!

2:52PM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Yikes! Thanks for the info. I was actually wondering about this just this morning.

5:52AM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

Just wrote a post that did not appear, so apologies if this posts twice:

- do NOT give children under 2 flouride toothpaste as they cannot spit it out the way older kids can. There is toothpaste specially formulated for little ones with low foam and no flouride
- do NOT stop giving snacks to little ones. Toddlers need the opportunity to get healthy foods into their bodies and snacks are a huge part of this - they should be getting 2-3 a day. Perhaps this comment was for older kids, but still: make healthy choices at snack time and there isn't a problem. If you are worried about the sugar on teeth then brush afterwards.

The writer does not appear to have any health credentials for writing an article of this nature. Perhaps more attention to detail is called for in writing and editing.

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