Baby Cavities Be Gone!
Baby Cavities Be Gone!
Getting to the root of the problem early
Why should parents worry about cavities in their little ones when the baby teeth are going to fall out anyway? The big answer is that decay in those little teeth can have serious and far-reaching health consequences. As a result, an unprecedented number of today’s young children are undergoing dental surgery caused by cavities in primary teeth, also called baby teeth. That just shouldn’t be happening.
In fact, The New York Times recently reported a significant spike in young children (across all income levels) with 6-10 cavities or more. So why is this resulting in trips to the operating room?
Consequences of cavities
The most obvious consequence of cavities is that they hurt—whether they are in baby teeth or permanent ones. The pain that results can interfere with a child’s ability to eat, sleep or speak.
According to President-Elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Robert L. Delarosa of Baton Rouge with Associates in Pediatric Dentistry (AIPD), “You can’t just pull baby teeth as this can delay the eruption of permanent teeth. This can cause the arch to collapse and block out the space a permanent tooth needs. Then you have a serious orthodontic problem. Decayed teeth need crowns if there is not enough tooth structure to just fill them. Sometimes a root canal is needed when nerve damage occurs.” Dr. Delarosa also reports that children with special needs such as Autism or Down Syndrome often cannot tolerate expensive operations needed in a traditional dental setting. “We’re treating more kids more aggressively and earlier.”
Dr. Delarosa reports that he has actually had extreme cases in which all 20 “baby” teeth required crowns. Severe cases involve intervention of anywhere from 6 to 16 teeth. With the trend of rising cavities resulting from a number of reasons that are sometimes complex, Dr. Delarosa says there are many things a parent can do to address the problem.
“The bottom line is that there are three reasons a child gets cavities: the tooth itself, food, and bacteria. Concerning the tooth itself, some children are unfortunately predisposed with genetic problems such as under-calcified teeth. This makes it easier for the tooth to break or crack, and it makes it easier for cavities to develop,” states Dr. Delarosa.
Snacking and sipping
With food and bacteria causing the cavities, one of the worst culprits has been how, when and what our children eat. Snacking is not only far more common today than just a few years ago, it is encouraged by health professionals and nutritionists. However, with children munching throughout the day on things such as granola bars, dried fruit, chips or cookies, tooth decay can be a sad consequence. Bread, crackers and bananas can also be problematic. Eating starchy or sugary foods causes the pH level in the mouth to drop, which means the mouth is awash in acid that eats away at enamel. Not good! Instead, children should be snacking on foods with more fiber such as apples or carrots that help the body produce more saliva, which neutralizes bacteria in the mouth and reduces the chance of decay.
Children also drink more milk, liquid yogurt, soft drinks, juice and other beverages that have ‘flavor,’ which usually translates to more sugar. We want to give our children lots of fluids, and they usually don’t want water with no flavor. More sugar means more bacteria that develops—and more cavities.
What parents can do
1. Limit the amount of juice (4 oz a day with food) and other beverages with high sugar content.
2. “Check that your water has fluoride. In Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes, the water may have naturally-occurring fluoride or added fluoride by the water company in your area,” says Dr. Delarosa. He then recommends you simply call your water company and find out your fluoride levels, if any. “If you use a water dispenser service in your home, you can request fluoridated water. Next, talk to your pediatrician or dentist. If fluoride is needed, there are gels, drops, or tablets that are age-appropriate.”
3. Brush twice a day and floss daily. Flossing should begin as soon as there are two adjacent teeth in the mouth.
4. Between meals, give your child more high-fiber snacks such as apples and celery. Fruits (except bananas, which are high in starch), vegetables, cheese, chicken or other meats, and nuts are also good choices. Avoid candy, cookies, cake, muffins, chips, pretzels, raisins or other dried fruit.
5. Check your toddler’s teeth frequently for signs of decay: dull white spots or lines and dark teeth.
6. Take your child for regular dental check-ups: twice a year—or more if there are problems and a high risk for cavities.
7. Don’t give children snacks or juice right before bedtime.
Many parents today complain they have less control over what their children are eating due to working schedules that require babysitters and daycares as well as when young children begin elementary school. However, you can certainly ask questions about any diet or snacks being served in daycares and schools, and you do have the right to request, and if necessary provide, the food and drink your child is consuming.
Taking care of our children’s baby teeth needs to be a part of any child’s regular regimen just as pediatrician visits and vaccinations are. Their health depends on it.