Cavities, an infectious disease caused by acid-forming bacteria found in dental plaque, destroys the tooth's structure. Young children, ages one through six, are more susceptible to develop cavities because their primary teeth have thinner, weaker enamel are a prime target for plaque and primary teeth have more spaces between teeth where food is more likely to linger which creates a breeding ground for cavity causing bacteria.
Shahrbanoo Fadavi, DDS, MS lead author of the report, noticed a cavity pattern among children ages two to four. She found cavities are most likely to first form in the front upper teeth, then the first upper and lower molar and then the lower canines (the pointy ones). "This pattern happens because parents often put their child to bed with a bottle containing milk or sugary juice. The child then falls asleep leaving teeth susceptible to acid-forming bacteria that develops into cavities." says Dr. Fadavi.
Parental knowledge is essential to create a good foundation for children's oral health. "Learning about proper oral care should be just as much of a priority as pre-natal care. Parents-to-be should take the initiative and ask health care professionals about a baby's oral health," suggests Dr. Fadavi.
So what can parents do to prevent the most common childhood disease?
1. Add more fluoride to children's daily intake.
Fluoride strengthens young teeth and can be obtained through toothpaste, fluoridated water, rinses and professional application. Not only does fluoride prevent the development of cavities, but it also repairs the early stages of tooth decay (before cavity formation). Therefore, tooth decay is reduced throughout the child's life and so is the cost of dental treatment.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and limit sugar intake.
"Promote fruits and vegetables in the household and remove foods with processed sugars and add teeth cleaning foods like apples, carrots and celery," says Manuel Cordero, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. However, be selective on what you serve.
In addition, limit or eliminate sugary drinks and snacks, the best alternative drink is water. "After eating, these sugary carbohydrates lead to 20 minutes of acid production in the mouth which is the crucial time when cavities form," says Dr. Cordero. Replace sweet treats with fruits and buy sugar-free chewing gum that contains xylitol and sorbitol.
Limit intake of carbonated drinks and use a straw with drinks to prevent sugar contact with teeth.
3. Help implement a dental education program within the school and/or community.
Make dental and health education a priority within the school system. Children spend most of their waking hours at school and are easily influenced by others, which can form bad habits. Parents should speak with teachers and school administrators about producing dental and health based programs or workshops that will teach kids about practicing good oral hygiene and nutrition.
"Parents can also teach kids good dental care through imitation. Let your children watch you brush your teeth and then take time to show them how to do it," says Dr. Cordero.
4. Prevent baby bottle tooth decay by becoming aware of nursing patterns.
Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by the frequent and long-term exposure of a child's teeth to liquids containing sugars. Among these liquids are milk, formula, fruit juice, sodas, and other sweetened drinks. The sugars in these liquids pool around the infant's teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, acid attacks the teeth and gums. After numerous attacks, tooth decay can begin.
Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. Clean and massage the baby's gums to help establish healthy teeth and to aid in teething. Wrap a moistened gauze square or washcloth around the finger and gently massage the gums and gingival tissues. This should be done once a day.
5. Children should visit a dentist within six months of eruption of first tooth.
Parents often wait much longer than this for their child's first dental visit. However the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the Academy of General Dentistry recommend children visit a dentist within six months after the first tooth erupts and no later than 12 months of age. During the first visit parents will learn more about the proper oral care and hygiene measures that is necessary for healthy, young teeth.