Childhood Tooth Decay Is an “Epidemic”
The Tooth Fairy is working as hard as ever these days, as dental experts claim that childhood tooth decay has reached “epidemic” proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42% of children age 11 and under have had cavities in their baby teeth, while 21% of kids age 6 to 11 have had cavities in their adult (permanent) teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) adds that 25% of children in the US develop cavities before they reach kindergarten.
Cavities in the youngest children — known as Carly Childhood Caries (ECC), or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay — occur typically due to prolonged exposure to sugary liquids, which occurs when infants fall asleep with a bottle in their mouths or walk around with a sippy cup. Causes for the rise in ECC and in older kids’ cavities may include the increased consumption of sugar-filled energy drinks and the limited access to professional dental care for lower-income patients, who often live in so-called “dental deserts.”
While many parents wait until their kids are two years old to take them to a dentist, the CDC recommends dental visits starting at age one, not only because of the need to assess infant and toddler tooth development, but also due to the importance of educating adults on proper dental care for small children — including oral hygiene techniques and diet.
Perhaps due to the increase in childhood tooth decay, the ADA recently eased its guidelines for using fluoride on baby teeth. The ADA previously advised parents to wait until kids turned two years old to begin brushing their teeth with fluoride toothpaste, due to the potential dangers of infants swallowing too much fluoride — including stomach ailments, toxicity, rashes and a tooth discoloration known as fluorosis. Now, however, the dental organization says that as soon as the tooth erupts from the gums (typically around six months of age), parents should begin cleaning it with a toothbrush that contains a “smear” of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice — an amount small enough that even if swallowed, would pose no health danger to the child. When kids reach two years of age, parents can increase the amount of toothpaste from a smear to a pea-sized amount, which children will use until age six.
(Sources: USA Today, American Dental Association)