By Dr. William Walden
Early childhood cavities are an infectious disease defined as the presence of one or more decayed, missing or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth in a preschool-age child between birth and 71 months of age. Although dental cavities in children have declined significantly among school-aged children since the early 1970s, dental cavities have remained the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood and are a public health concern.
Early childhood cavities are an infectious disease that can start as soon as an infant’s teeth erupt. It can progress rapidly and may have a lasting impact on a child’s health and well-being. Cavities are a disease process initiated by bacteria. When food is consumed, bacteria are able to break down carbohydrates, producing acids that cause mineral loss from teeth. This mineral loss results in cavities when the attack is prolonged or if a person’s immune system is compromised. There are many factors that contribute to cavities in children, such as compromised immune systems, poor nutrition and feeding habits, genetics, medication, and poor oral hygiene.
Childhood cavities can be prevented with an emphasis on early preventive oral healthcare for children. With the onset of cavities beginning at such a young age, education needs to begin with the parents. Fluoride is safe and effective for preventing cavities in children. Community water fluoridation is a major factor responsible for the decline of cavities in children. Fluoride toothpastes, varnishes, mouth rinses, gels, and dietary supplements can also help prevent cavities. Good dietary counseling and oral hygiene practices need to be taught at a young age to start good habits that can be passed on to future children. There are many programs provided by health care facilities to help educate families with young children as well as programs to help low income families gain better access to dental care.
Parents are now being taught from health care providers how to prevent cavities in young children. Every child needs a well-balanced diet and unrestricted consumption of sugary liquids and foods should be avoided. It is also important to avoid putting a child to bed with a bottle. Infants need to have their mouth swabbed after each bottle, as well as, children need to have their teeth brushed every morning and night. It is always a good idea to take a child for their first dental visit by one year of age. This insures that any conditions can be monitored and found early on. Healthy children may only need exams once a year, however, children that are high risk for dental problems may need more frequent visits.
Early screenings are now being done in public school systems and as part of regular check-ups with a child’s regular physician. Some primary health care professionals are performing an oral health screening that includes the lips, tongue, teeth, gums, interior surface of the cheeks, and roof of the mouth. Health professionals can help ensure that infants and young children receive the care they need by referring infants to a dentist for an oral examination. With families being educated about the dangers and prevention of childhood cavities there is hope to begin seeing a decline in the number of children having to have dental work at such a young age.
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