keeping kids healthy
Cavities in preschoolers are a (totally preventable) nightmare
Jessica sat helplessly listening to her three-year-old daughter scream bloody murder, strapped to a board to immobilize her from head to ankle, while having eight cavities filled — in her baby teeth.
What’s tragic is Jessica’s daughter is not the exception. The number of preschoolers with cavities is skyrocketing. Dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 - 10 cavities, or more.
This is a problem with dire consequences because preschoolers need good oral health for proper development of their adult teeth. If cavities are left untreated, it results in pain, infection, dysfunction, missed school and, in some tragic cases, death.
According to Healthy People 2010, nearly one quarter (23%) of all US children have cavities by the age of four. By second grade, half of all U.S. children have experienced caries.
The level of decay in preschoolers is sometimes so severe that the children must be knocked out with general anesthesia because young children are unlikely to sit through such extensive procedures while they’re awake, and strapping them down is extremely traumatic. My three-year-old grandson had six cavities filled under general anesthesia. That was after giving him an anti-anxiety drug so they could put the mask over his face!
Could you imagine having six cavities filled during one visit without being “put under” (or at least having heavy duty drugs on board)? I get nitrous just to calm down before the local is administered!
If you think a little anesthesia isn’t a big deal, think again. General anesthesia comes with risks including vomiting and nausea and, in very rare cases, brain damage or death. Adding an anti-anxiety drug to the mix only potentiates the risks.
What’s ridiculous about cavities in preschoolers is that it’s totally preventable. Tooth decay is the most common preventable chronic condition in children.
So why are so many children getting so many cavities? Many dentists blame this on endless snacking and juice or other sweet drinks at bedtime, parents who choose bottled water rather than fluoridated tap water for their children and a lack of awareness that infants should visit a dentist by age one to be assessed for future cavity risk.
Another problem is many parents don’t brush their kid’s teeth because it’s too traumatic (for the child as well as the parents). Well, would you rather have your child cry with a soft toothbrush in her mouth than when the dentist is drilling a cavity?
Here are some tips for parents to help prevent cavities in their preschoolers:
- Take your child to a dentist before their first birthday.
- Brush your child’s teeth for them with a small amount of fluoride (pea-size dollop) toothpaste twice a day. Dentists say children cannot properly brush their teeth until seven or eight years of age.
- Reduce the amount of snacking. Eating any starchy or sugary food or drinking sugary beverages causes the pH level in the mouth to drop sharply, which is murder on enamel. You don’t have to eliminate sugary snacks from their diet, but what you must do is brush their teeth immediately afterwards. And, for heaven sakes limit the amount of juice they drink to four ounces a day.
- Never share utensils with a child or “clean” a pacifier in your mouth, then give it to your infant. Cavities are caused by bacteria and are infectious. Research has shown that parents or caregivers with tooth decay can pass cavity-causing bacteria via saliva.
Parents, start behaving like parents. Brushing you children’s teeth twice a day is non-negotiable!