The number of preschoolers requiring extensive dental work suggests that many parents are making the mistake of not knowing the risks of tooth decay or how to prevent it. 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 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.
Dentists’ Tips for Healthy Baby Teeth
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.
CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS