Tooth decay is seemingly on the rise as our kids seem to have more of a sweet tooth than ever before, leaving their teeth more vulnerable to decay than ever before.
This trend could lead to the tooth fairy being overworked but what are the facts and what is fiction when it comes to child tooth decay?
Family dentist’s like Paul Corcoran DDS are regularly dealing with cosmetic dentistry needs and emergency dental requests related to children but as always, prevention is better than the cure, so here is a look at some of the salient points relating to child tooth decay.
Tooth decay explained
Also referred to as dental caries, tooth decay is a disease that causes damage to the structure of the tooth.
Pediatric dental disease or tooth decay as we most commonly call it, is considered to be the number one chronic childhood illness and if it is left untreated, the consequences can be pretty severe and have implications that go beyond what happens in the dentist’s chair.
When tooth decay is left unchecked and takes hold in the child’s mouth, it can have a detrimental impact on their cognitive and social development and on their quality of life overall. If it is left untreated, tooth decay can also lead to malnourishment and bacterial infections, as well sometime requiring emergency surgery and even become life-threatening in extreme cases.
Early warning signs
One of the big issues regarding the onset of tooth decay is that it can actually be quite challenging to spot in the early stages, unless you have specialist training like your family dentist.
The first sign of tooth decay is normally when the upper incisors start to develop a dull white band that runs across the gum line, which is the area at the base of the tooth nearest to the gums.
You might also notice some brown spots of your child’s teeth and there is also a chance that the gums might become red and swollen.
If these early warning signs are not detected, the more advanced stages of tooth decay will be displayed by those gums still being red and swollen in appearance and in addition, blackened areas will start to show up on the teeth.
Oral health in crisis
It is easy to be sensationalist and claim that there is a potential children’s oral health crisis, but some of the facts and figures do make uncomfortable reading if you are a parent and do suggest that urgent and preventative action is needed.
Part of the problem is that an estimated 17 million kids in the U.S actually go without dental care each year, which means that tooth decay could go unnoticed by parents until it is allowed to take hold and cause a number of related problems and health issues.
It is also estimated that over 50 million school hours and in excess of 160 million work hours are lost to dental disease each year, which has educational and productivity consequences.
Data from the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation reveal that 25% of children aged between 2 and 5 years of age suffer from tooth decay and it seems that the issue is not being addressed, as 50% of children aged between 12 and 15 years have been identified as having tooth decay.
Preventing tooth decay
Despite all the light-hearted fun about the tooth fairy, tooth decay will lead to unnecessary tooth loss as part of remedial dentistry to put things right, so the key for parents and kids must surely to be proactive and try to prevent tooth decay in the first place.
Simply cleaning your teeth regularly is not a guarantee that your child will avoid suffering from tooth decay and it is just as important to watch the types of food and drink that your child is allowed to have, as this can influence and affect the development of tooth decay.
Start your good habits at a very early age, babies between 6-8 months should avoid sweetened milk, fruit juice and cordials and encourage drinking from a cup as soon as possible rather than from a bottle, as all of this will help reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Your aim should also be to encourage consumption of more tooth-friendly foods, so try to severely limit their sugar intake and try to give your child foods like cheese and chopped vegetables, which all promote healthier teeth and diets too.
If you want to avoid regular visits from the tooth fairy other than in the usual development stages, keep a watchful eye out for the signs of tooth decay and encourage healthy eating and drinking habits.
GUEST BLOGGER: Dr. Corcoran and his wife Jean have been residents of Eagle County for decades and participate in many community events. He is a gentle, caring dentist who uses advanced materials & procedures. Dr. Corcoran practices the most comfortable, health-centered dentistry with a strong emphasis on getting to know each of his patients. In addition to his technical proficiency, he is a careful listener & will explain beforehand which treatment options are best for your individual needs. After earning his bachelors degree from the University of Maryland, Dr. Corcoran went on to graduate from the University of Maryland Dental School. Since 2001, he has taken ongoing continuing education courses at the UCLA Dental School, including many in cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Corcoran has been a staff member of the Vail Valley Medical Center for over 30 years & sponsors a free day of dentistry every October providing free dental care to the local community.