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?