Sweet tooth trouble: More cavities being seen in younger kids
By Jeanne Millsap For The Herald-News July 17, 2012 12:58PM
A dentist checks the jaw of a 1-year-old. | Submitted by Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:06AM
Dr. Gina Mueller, a Shorewood dentist, said she’s not surprised when she sees young children coming in her office with six or eight or even a dozen cavities. It seems like the past few years, she said, it’s becoming more common for toddlers to develop a mouth-ful of cavities even before their first dental checkup.
“It’s almost more surprising to see a kid without cavities,” she said.
Her fellow dentists at Shorewood Family Dental Center say they are observing the same trend, and they are not alone.
A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an increase in cavities in American children ages 2 to 5. With all the dental health and preventative treatment progress in recent decades, that’s the first increase in cavities seen in any age group in 40 years.
Other age groups continue to show improvements in dental health. There are fewer cavities in adolescents. Adults also have fewer cavities, better tooth retention and better periodontal health. Seniors are losing teeth at a slower rate and also have less periodontitis.
Preschoolers’ dental health, however, has taken a downward turn.
‘Acid attack on their teeth’
Some come in to their first dentist appointment with several cavities, many so extensive the little patients must go under general anesthesia to fill them all, as they are too young to sit through the work. Some have to have root canals before they even begin school.
“I do baby root canals all the time,” Mueller said. “When they’re around 3 or younger or if they have multiple cavities, I usually refer them to a pediatric dentist. It depends on how severe the decay is and their age.”
It’s a wake-up call to their parents, Mueller said.
The reasons for the worsening dental health of young children are pretty clear, she said. Many parents today allow their children to snack, or graze, all day long. That gives oral bacteria a rich growing environment, bathed in sugars and carbohydrates.
Constant sipping on fruit juices is just as bad, she added. Many parents think of juice as a healthful alternative to soft drinks or other sugary drinks, but juices also contain a lot of sugar.
“I’m against the whole sippy cup concept,” Mueller said. “They play some, then sip their juice, they play, they sip more juice … It rots their teeth so fast. It’s like an acid attack on their teeth.”
Juice is fine with meals, she explained, when they are going to drink a small quantity along with food, then leave the table and not drink any more. If they are thirsty between meals, parents should give them water.
Importance of fluoride
Bottled water, though, Mueller said, may be another reason kids are having more cavities. Many don’t contain enough fluoride, and some don’t have any at all. Reverse osmosis filtration systems that some parents have in their homes also remove fluoride from water, she said.
Research in the medical journal Pediatric Dentistry cited that 70 percent of parents give their children bottled water either exclusively or with tap water.
“Fluoride is critical when kids’ permanent teeth are forming,” Mueller explained. “It’s critical for them to drink fluoridated water up until around the age of 14.”
And then there is the issue of brushing teeth, a practice that used to be non-negotiable in previous generations but that many of today’s parents let slide. As soon as the first tooth comes in, however, it is susceptible to decay, and that’s when parents should begin brushing their children’s teeth.
“Parents can do the brushing themselves until the child is 8 or 9,” Mueller said, “or they can let their child do the brushing themselves, then the parent can do a second brushing right after.”
The kind of snacks is just as important as frequency of eating, she added.
Gummy bears, raisins, chewy granola bars and goldfish-like crackers can stick to the teeth for hours. Better are snacks that can dissolve quickly, such as a few chocolate kisses. Even better are cut-up fruits, vegetables or cheese, eaten at one sitting and not available for grazing all day long.