Tooth decay is epidemic among today’s kids

February 19, 2014

Tooth decay among US children is an epidemic and a growing problem, says a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

 

Tooth decay among US children is an epidemic and a growing problem, says a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).

The 24-page report, titled “The State of Little Teeth,” is an attempt to help address the problem.

The AAPD summary states that the rate of tooth decay in the baby teeth of children aged 2 to 5 years increased almost 17% from the period 1988-1994 to 1999-2004.

Currently, by the age of 3 years, almost 1 in every 10 US children has oral health issues, and 40% of children entering kindergarten have dental caries, a chronic, infectious, and transmissible disease that results from exposure to bacteria through contact with saliva.

Early childhood caries (ECC), a rapid form of tooth decay, is the most common disease among young children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ECC is 5 times more common than asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever. The AAPD report explains that ECC can have lasting effects on children’s oral and overall health, as well as on social and intellectual development.

Children from low-income and minority families are particularly at risk because they are less likely than other children to see a dentist early or at all.

One of the major causes of caries is putting young children to bed with bottles of juice, milk, or formula. The sugar in these drinks pools around the upper front teeth and mixes with caries-producing bacteria, giving rise to rapid tooth decay. Other factors that place children at risk for caries include enamel defects; consumption of sugary drinks and snacks; lack of dental hygiene and/or fluoridation; chronic illness; certain medications; and mouth breathing.

Some suggestions offered in the report for combating the problem include having a dental home and starting children visiting their dentist regularly by the age of 1 year. The report also suggests that parents begin using a fluoride-containing toothpaste as soon as their children’s primary teeth begin to appear.

 Even the American Dental Association is now on board with these guidelines, recently reversing its recommendation to begin using fluoride toothpaste at around 2 years of age and instead recommending that caregivers use a small smear of fluoride-containing toothpaste twice daily to clean children’s baby teeth as soon as they erupt. 

 

 

To get weekly clinical advice for today's pediatrician, subscribe to the Contemporary Pediatrics eConsult.